Harriet Gimpel

Sandy Empty Water Bottles

Consumed by collaborating on a major grant proposal this week, I refresh my memory of the events of the week, looking at phrases I typed arbitrarily on this screen. Israel releasing the director of the She’ifa Hospital in Gaza seems like a fleeting moment and yet symptomatic of the state of affairs in Israel between our abominable government and the senior security and defense forces. My opinion regarding this particular incident is inconsequential. It can only be added to the bulk of questions I helplessly, rhetorically ask, echoed at demonstrations and rallies demanding elections, calling for the release of Israeli hostages now, and for the end of this war.

Last Sunday, I had a brief encounter with my favorite nurse at the local medical clinic. She is the mother of a soldier. I asked about him. A huge smile crossed her face, which first and foremost, I could take as a sign that he is currently somewhere other than in Gaza. She made some warm and loving blanket statement about him and fellow combat soldiers and their bravery. Then she looked at me, with an expression testing if she should or should not continue, and she did. “Who knows if they don’t put something in their food to keep them going?” There was enough ambiguity and hints of her sleepless nights for me to simply nod and shake my shoulders in unknowing agreement, lest any remark of any kind be offensive or inappropriate. But her comment did not fall on deaf ears.

The following day, a meeting with two young women representing an organization seeking to advocate in their home capitals, in London and Berlin, for peace and reconciliation here in Israel and Palestine took place at my suggestion in a café on Hostages Square. It was almost heartwarming to hear the German woman say with conviction that she understands we (peace-advocating civil society organizations) are preparing our societies for peace better than they were prepared in the 1990s – before Rabin was assassinated. I withheld comment because every comparison between the times is at best pathetic. The patronizing messages of the peace proposed in the 1990s, in its context, was a voice for peace that we were still naïve enough to believe and accept as an Israeli vote for peace, with all the risks involved. Of course, it was still a voice that fell on ears largely deaf to injustices committed by Israel in previous decades. It was a voice that West Bank settlers could not bear to hear. The German was not mistaken. We were not adequately prepared then. Presumably, societies will never be prepared, and one day it will happen.

Ireland. South Africa. Conflicts become resolved, in some ways. When our conflict is eventually resolved, it seems Israeli society will be less prepared than it was in the 1990s. The far more than negligible voices that Bibi Netanyahu tolerates to stay in power, stripping the skeleton of our democracy from its fragmented vertebrae, will be exposed to all with listening ears, yet blinded eyes. The German woman is in that enviable position in which you think that the world before you were born was not as advanced as it is today. I past – and led to the assassination of the Prime Minister of Israel by an Israeli objector – that efforts today will prepare people for peace to be sustained by driving the stakes of democracy more firmly in the ground, in the desert sands and in the cracks of the asphalt on our solar heated highways, with the masses joining in pouring the concrete of reinforcement.

My colleagues headed that evening to join thousands at a huge indoor sports stadium in Tel Aviv for an evening of support for peace, for a ceasefire, for release of the hostages, with Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel. We had tickets and plans with another couple made months earlier for a performance with an orchestra and vocalists performing Abdel Halim Hafez. The orchestra included identifiably religious Jews, Russian immigrants, Israelis from different ethnic backgrounds, and the vocalists included a Druze man, a young Palestinian woman and a young Palestinian man, all citizens of Israel, of course. The audience was largely Jewish Israelis with Egyptian lineage, like the three people I was with. It wasn’t the vibe of the massive rally, but it projected the shared society that the current government of Israel undermines as it plants the seeds of exacerbated hate and fears between the Arab and Jewish citizens of this country.

When a terrorist attack in Karmiel this week was perpetrated by a Palestinian citizen of the State of Israel from an Arab town in northern Israel, Haim immediately said we only have to hope that tensions don’t turn into rioting within Israel in mixed cities and mixed regions. However you view it, nobody denies that this quiet since October 7 is not maintained just by good will. My reaction: I fear a government with Ben Gvir as Minister of National Security – or should I say, Minister of Careless Weapon Distribution – and a government that never adequately addressed the issue a year ago of Jewish settlers setting the Palestinian village Huwara afire in the West Bank sent a message to Jewish Israelis that they can get away with aggression towards any Arab town – in Palestine, or in Israel – that has been home to a terrorist.

But meanwhile, on Monday, I remained with my laptop and coffee at Hostages Square for several hours after my meeting. I have a friend, former colleague, who’s almost 80-year-old uncle is a hostage in Gaza. We have texted but not spoken since October 7. Suddenly through the glass façade of the building, I saw her crossing the square in my direction and I ran out to meet her. We hugged and had a quick exchange of conversation that led to a telephone call later in the week. But mostly, I was left with that piercing reality that you can often avoid in the middle of the day: she was wearing a t-shirt to “bring them home now” with her uncle’s picture on it. Her uncle is held hostage in Gaza.

The iconic installation in Hostages Square with the long table set for Friday night dinner in the square since October 20, and replicated in cities around the world, gets updated periodically. Places are still set for all the hostages. When I arrived, there were empty mineral water bottles covered with sand and the once yellow chairs are gray, covered with sand or perhaps concrete spread to appear like sand and the tablecloth and settings look the same. When I left, the empty water bottles were replaced with sand-covered wine glasses. When I left, Gadi Moses, my friend’s uncle was fixed in my mind, like the sand on the chairs, and who knows if he is in a tunnel or hidden in a home, in the dry, arid, desert sands in Gaza. Bring them home now!

Yet another day, when we in Israel relive our trauma and are exposed by the media and other intrusive sources of information to more of our own pain. Yet, the news of Israel’s aggression in Gaza, as in the West Bank reaches us through the filters of our defenders. Yet, an Israeli journalist claims on a late-night news show that his so-called colleagues fail to report to the Israeli public that Israel has killed 17,000 children in Gaza. It’s not a matter of comparing how many children remain, alive or otherwise, among the 120 hostages still in Gaza – it’s a matter of reporting the news. Then, we can do with it as we will when we talk about preparing societies for peace – and that will likely require acknowledgement of the narrative of the other, today and throughout this war, and for the past 100 years.

Image courtesy of author
Image courtesy of author

Evening comes again and with a moment to glance at my online news outlets and the television broadcasts, we are informed that foreign media outlets report Israeli sources say that if war breaks out with Lebanon, it will happen in the third or fourth week of July. Sounds like a “save the date” for the boys to play more war games. Other reports point to the end of the war with the amount of reserve duty that the army can require in a year exhausted and declining morale, too many fallen soldiers, and too many soldiers who have witnessed too much death – of their friends and of Gazan children.

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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