Harriet Gimpel


All day, every day, despite ourselves, Israelis are living and reliving October 7. It occurs to me that this is the answer to the question frequently posed to me by friends and relatives: “What would you say is the general, mainstream vibe among Israelis now?” Reliving October 7. All I know is that we all want the hostages back. We want the war to end. We want Hamas to be rendered ineffective. Proposals for how to accomplish these goals are spread across the spectrum. I wouldn’t dare make conjectures on a majority position. I keep my distance from the consensus I perceive, and I activate my internal silencers when I get too close.

Internal silencers are the ones you use when you want to avoid an argument, when you want to keep the peace at a family dinner, to save yourself getting riled by the counterargument, or getting frustrated by your inability to bring others around to your point of view, and presuming they feel similarly towards you – or think you are just a lone leaf on a twig blowing in the wrong direction.

I have weekly discussions with Palestinian colleagues from the West Bank, sometimes group discussions, sometimes personal, one-on-one talks. As Israelis and Palestinians, we are committed to finding a way to reconciliation and an end to the violence of this conflict. This requires mutual acknowledgement of the narrative of the other, the pain of the other. Our discussions can be very pragmatic. More often, since October 7, these discussions make me ill at ease and make me activate my internal silencers.

When we speak to individuals, and as individuals, the personal and individual occasionally blends into indistinguishable expressions of representing one’s society, one’s national identity, one’s population and its experience. There is an understanding in Israeli society among the few who care to have any such understanding that Palestinians – and perhaps most of the world – have no understanding that in the 100 days since October 7, we relive October 7 daily.

Today, yesterday, tomorrow, the evening news will include another story of terrifying fear expressed by a child who survived the October 7 massacre at a kibbutz on the Gaza border texting a grandparent in central Israel from the home shelter. The story of a Druze woman who demonstrated ingenuity, using her mother tongue, Arabic, to round up terrorists and gain information as she heroically saved all her Jewish neighbors at their moshav in the Negev. The report includes an interview with her pre-teen daughter describing how Jewish classmates used to marginalize her, sending her incorrect locations to a birthday party. They live in a Jewish community adjacent to the IDF base where the woman’s husband, a career IDF soldier serves.

We attend or watch another demonstration at the Hostages Square. A returned hostage describes hostages still in captivity observed with missing limbs. Another story of a Palestinian citizen of Israel at the scene of the Nova party who remained to save fellow Israelis at the cost of his own life.

We get daily reports on IDF actions in Gaza by Israeli media.

My West Bank Palestinian colleagues convey a point of view from their society that we Israelis should “get over it.” It was one day, and their days under Occupation are hell every day, and only worse since October 7.

It’s my choice – and a stress test – to delve deeper into this dialogue. Sometimes, monologues. Theirs. Usually, I activate my silencer, as I delve deeper into introspective questions of what is reasonable to expect, what is credible, what has evolved from the Jewish and Palestinian narratives in 75 years, where do the new detours lead?

I have interactions several times every week with personal friends, Palestinian citizens of the State of Israel. This is not an Israeli norm. After October 7 when a sense of shared fate drew Israelis together, even if differences continued to resonate, I knew the obvious inclusion of Palestinian citizens of Israel among all Israelis was not obvious. My Arab friends include individuals who have family members living in Jewish towns terrorized on October 7, neighbors kidnapped on October 7, relatives murdered on October 7 while saving Israelis, and relatives living and no longer living at all in Gaza.

I understand the implications of living under the Palestinian Authority (PA) as opposed to living under Hamas in Gaza when it comes to who feels free to say what and where. Hamas cells on the West Bank are subject to scrutiny of the PA and the IDF. Each society and its silencers. Growing support for Hamas on the West Bank aligns with Israel releasing Palestinian prisoners in exchange for hostages in Gaza. Then Hamas support on the West Bank syncs with the intensity of IDF incursions and innocent casualties. But casualties are not only innocent.

The opposition of the Palestinian Authority’s leadership (PLO) to Hamas is hardly a  pro-Israel party line. The Palestinian people want their homeland. PLO recognition of Israel is not a sweeping endorsement by the public. Palestinians on the West Bank are likely to champion ideas distasteful to Israelis, and explicitly express them without remorse. Their silencers are relaxed.

Palestinian citizens of Israel are the silenced.

When I speak to my friends, I understand they experienced October 7 as Israelis. Last week at Givat Haviva’s national conference on shared society in Israel during a time of emergency, an Arab speaker asked the rhetorical question, “If Arabs had not been among the kidnapped, murdered, and heroic citizens saving lives on October 7, would their allegiance to Israel be less certain?” My inner voice, without a silencer, reiterates and screams inside of me: WHY?

I have the liberty of sharing how disturbed I am by Israel’s attacks on Gaza.

Incidentally, I would be elated if yesterday we accepted the Saudi Arabian proposal of complete normalization of relations with Israel in exchange for it rebuilding Gaza and the PA ruling in Gaza. At least in the living room, watching television with Haim, I have a partner who likes the idea as much as I do. We know many Israelis want to rebuild Gaza with Jewish settlements, for Palestinians never to return. I don’t know the scope. I don’t know what constitutes the majority opinion. I press my earplugs if I indiscriminately, socially discuss politics, lest the deafening cacophony penetrate my solitude.

I activate my silencers.

My Arab, Palestinian friends who are citizens of Israel are silenced. I can express my horror about every aspect of October 7 and my concern for innocent Gazans. I can voice skepticism regarding justification of a military strategy that induced such destruction, and I am offended by any right-wing extremist Israeli who would dare claim my attitude sheds doubt on my desire to ensure the safety of Israel. My friends who are Arab, Palestinian citizens of Israel are silenced. Their concern for innocent Gazans is suspect. Arabs have been arrested for such social media posts. (Democracy.) Yet, like Jewish Israelis, they live and relive October 7 every day.

Then, West Bank Palestinians want Jews to get beyond October 7. If we communicate, we want them to understand we can’t. We empathize with their situation and concerns for Gaza. I lose sleep over it.

But I am distraught by the silencing of Palestinian citizens of Israel. They are angry that Jews don’t empathize. I sat with an Arab friend and cried.  The pain of silencing my voice in empathy when I speak to Palestinians on the West Bank is so acute. My Arab friend in Israel then has her voice silenced, and Jewish society is largely silent, incapable of empathy for the plight of her people, loyal citizens of Israel – the state we share.

I keep writing, when the writing of wiser and more knowledgeable people is more widely read as they offer informed insights, while my only claim to expertise is my own emotional state. I keep writing, knowing I can’t represent other voices. I keep writing as long as I am not silenced.

And in the silences, I listen.

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.
Related Topics
Related Posts