Harriet Gimpel

Questions Asked – and Not…

When I envision the day after, I can only imagine a long day: A meeting of solstices when this long darkness meets long hours of light, when we will confront our own denial – but the world is illuminating the darkness and it is too dark for me, the war in Gaza, its tentacles reaching into Jenin and across the West Bank. But I look through the avoidable apertures in Israel in the moment. Won’t we all on the day after?

I will not run from it, though it strips me of my identity, of belonging, of being connected to a heritage of moral values, Jewish or universal, that I was educated to believe were the compass of my people. But I ask a moment of your patience. Let me share another glimpse at my world, through the filter of Israeli media, bulletin boards on each side of every road, in my rearview mirror, and in front of me – Israeli hostages in Gaza – questions from my grandchildren, questions they don’t ask yet, and my questions.

I understand Israel’s attacks on Gaza are horrific. Justification for self-defense and other arguments, proportionality and absence of rationality – the extent of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza since October 7 cannot be justified despite Hamas use of hospitals, medical clinics, schools, community centers, mosques, colleges to shelter arms and terrorists, even if their life mission is my decimation.

Every day, around the world you see what Israel has done in Gaza. In Israel, I hear about another entrance to another tunnel uncovered. Every day in Israel, all day, radio, television, social media, remind me, of October 7. The rest of the world got a dose of October 7 and moved on to October 8. Here we are, January 7.

Every day, I hear another story – another heroic act to save ten or two or more Israelis on October 7 leaving the Nova party, or fleeing from Kibbutz Beeri, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Kibbutz Nir Oz, and the list is extensive. I hear the soldier telling how he managed to convince two young children to come with him to their rescue. They hugged, frozen to the spot where they watched their parents’ murders by Hamas terrorists. Daily, I hear another sibling or parent or spouse or child of a hostage sharing what they know about the kidnapping by Hamas, or what they heard from a returned hostage about the hostage left behind.

In my safe haven in central Israel, Haim’s daughter tells us there is a new child in school with her oldest daughter (4th grade) who lost a parent and had another family member kidnapped that day. No surprise that her daughter came into her room the other night, unable to sleep, afraid of being kidnapped. Parents say what parents must to reassure their children. Once upon a time, there was an ethos of certainty that Israel would do everything possible to return any hostage. Three months later, over 130 people still held hostage by Hamas. Will they come home? If ultimately the answer to that question is anything but affirmative, that 4th grader will grow up ask far more frightening questions. What answers are we prepared to provide?

Yes, I support our soldiers. I wake up almost daily to the names of the soldiers who fell in battle the day before. Every evening, of every day, I listen to the daily announcement by the IDF spokesman (that lest you wonder is only a daily IDF practice due to the war). I get a text from a friend to let me know her son is fine, hearing impaired and an injured leg. He began rehab and putting weight on the leg. Had a setback after attending the funeral of a soldier from his unit last week and notice that three other soldiers in his unit fell. He was stationed on our safer northern border with southern Lebanon. I support soldiers who risk their lives to protect their country, my country, my safety. I have concerns, ok, enough of the euphemisms, I have harsh criticism of the government, the lack of strategy, the irresponsible extremist political statements damaging any Israeli cause even if not turned into explicit policy. I am in despair that there is no plan for the day after. Still, I support our soldiers. I am angry that they have to protect our country according to orders stained by political whims of politicians in whom I have no faith.

We hear the number of casualties in Gaza. Israelis ask who’s counting. How many terrorists does the number include? You believe numbers reported by the Gazan Ministry of Health and Al-Jazeera? Yet, as Israelis, we have spent, at least, the past few years appalled that nary a credible word passes Netanyahu’s lips.

Every day in Israel we hear another report by another returned hostage, the darkness of 50 days underground in a tunnel, the baby, prohibitions on speaking above a whisper, the orange shared segment by segment as far as it went among hungry women, the nurse among the returned hostages rationed finite doses of antibiotics available. Another eyewitness describes, or refrains from describing the sexual attack observed. My fingers go into momentary paralysis over the keyboard as I type the words. The allusions to things that happened, and the descriptions by returned hostages of the fears, lest it happen, or happen again. Daily reminders for Israelis. I heard Haim tell his brother that Harriet just cries. I hadn’t noticed. A colleague reported crying every morning. But not me. Not every morning.

Every day, I hear about the 1200 people murdered on October 7, burned alive or brutally mangled, or just shot to death. Or raped first. Or with a limb shot off, taken hostage. Every few days, news of another body identified – an individual thought to be a hostage.  Another individual missing since October 7 confirmed a hostage.

I am not sharing this to sadden you. You feel bad enough following the events in Gaza. Israeli airstrikes resulting in stories of death, displacement, starvation, uncertainty for Gazans. No comparisons. Only differences. Different narratives. Different media. Different media influencers. The historic context for Jews, the enmeshed threads of the Israeli story for citizens of Israeli – Jewish and Palestinian.

On that long day when the sun shines for more hours than any other day of the year, soldiers will meet a broader picture in their sleep, or by critical thinking, in chance encounters, and throughout the world. My criticism of past wars notwithstanding, I understand national pride in battles for Israel’s survival. This war is not that. I suspect children and grandchildren of today’s soldiers’ will struggle to take unequivocal in pride in their fathers and mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers war in 2023 in Gaza – pride in an admirable willingness to defend Israel perhaps, but in my best predictions it will not come without deep remorse about what Israel became in 2023, under its democratically elected government.

We’ll do remorse-management and transcend this. But first we need to find our way to the day after. Our leaders are lost, or intentionally avoiding the way. In the process, they endanger remaining support for Israel from other nations around the world. These nations may support Israel as it remains, nominally, the only democracy in the Middle East, and for other reasons, but not indefinitely.

The only way to support Israel, and its future, is PRESSURE on Israel to promote and commit to an agreement to secure peace and security for Israel and for Gaza, the end of warfare, the end of the cycle of attacks and retaliation and attacks. Support for Israel – this.

Harriet Gimpel, January 6, 2024

About the Author
Born and raised in Philadelphia, earned a B.A. in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University in 1980, followed by an M.A. in Political Science from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Harriet has worked in the non-profit world throughout her career. She is a freelance translator and editor, writes poetry in Hebrew and essays in English, and continues to work for NGOs committed to human rights and democracy.
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