Another ordinary morning on the hybrid trajectory, a day at the office. Stopped at a traffic light at a major intersection with lanes leading into the highway. A traveling billboard in front of me – the back of a bus covered by a public service message stretched below the back window to just above the bottom panel with the license plate. A picture of a beautiful young woman, and text. Black, red colors. Before taking in the text, you know it has to do with the war. You think she must be a hostage. Commonplace. A person’s picture and #BringThemHome. But you don’t see that bold-lettered text when you look for it. You see October 7, 2023. You see another date in 2001. Without noticing you’re calculating you utter to yourself,”21-years old.”
You are part of a grieving nation, a grieving people. The internal pain stroked by another blazing, branding iron pole searing your heart. You feel ridiculous because she has parents, and probably siblings, and friends, and loved ones mourning her absence from their lives. How could you possibly understand? I see her name and text about her being in our hearts. That’s it.
Thoughts, like sparks shoot from my heart. She is one of the 1300 victims of October 7. I do not know all their names. Hostages’ names are more familiar to the public. Their pictures everywhere – elderly, young, a baby, small children, men, women – text begging any powers who have the powers to bring them home. Why is this young woman’s picture on the back of the bus? We cannot bring her back. Is there someone who needs a reminder of the individuals that make up that number of 1300 dead, or the soldiers who have lost their lives in the days since then? Every day, we see names and pictures of fallen soldiers from the night before or from this morning.
The text on the back of the bus provides no information about who paid for this traveling public service message – harder to avoid than a billboard to your left or right on the highway or on the overhang from a bridge. You can refrain from looking up or to the sides, but you shouldn’t be driving if you’re not looking at the vehicle in front of you.
Is her family behind this? No criticism from me of a bereaved family in this moment. Yet, hard to see an incentive. Is there an agenda of an entity evading criticism by anonymity? Is it another link in the game of chutes and ladders of national support and reinforcement for vengeance? I described it this way a young woman close to my heart. Her unhesitating response was, “It should remind us of our justification in seeking vengeance. It’s important.” I nod in acquiescence. Drained of emotional energy to argue otherwise.
Angry at forces manipulating my emotions. Learning from this war not to argue my point, but to place it in another rubric of the public discourse and possibly elicit an equally acquiescent nod.
Is my internal rage dishonoring the memory of this young woman’s tragic demise on October 7? But is the rear of the bus used to reassure a certain political base that this war will go on? Pain. Anger. Helplessness. Telling myself that if this is a call for mobilization – make it mobilization for the end of all warfare.
Switched lanes and continued driving. Saddened. Trauma reinforced – nationally, personally, qualitatively. Parents of young children are entrusted with mediating these messages through their filters.
I revert to seeking an acquiescent nod to my message, putting my unoriginal idea into our space of judgement and reserved reactions. When conflicts are resolved, or peace agreements reached, we look back and say, things had to reach that lowest, most hopeless, and tragic level of loss, destruction, death in order for the sides to resign themselves to some variation of peace. I said that. I added, I hope we come to an agreement now, because I would not want it to ever have to get any worse than October 7, or than right now – January 19. I got the nod.
“Why” I asked myself, “did I need to say, October 7, and “right now?” A no-brainer. There was a staff meeting after I saw the rear bus ad, and before I said that to one of the dearest of the young women in my life.
Remember, I was driving to work. To a Zoom meeting with my Palestinian colleagues. Sometimes, oftentimes, my thoughts roam. There are 300,000 Palestinians on the West Bank who entered Israel regularly, daily, until October 7. It means they have no means of supporting their families since then. It means a lot of other things.
The rear bus ad returns to the front of my thoughts. The staff meeting intentionally focused on each of our emotional needs in feeling we are in a safe space with our colleagues, rather than focusing on project updates or planning. It was tense. Words were surely measured. Yet, it was candid. An Israeli said that even if we state our needs, it doesn’t necessarily mean we can meet each other’s needs. We pride ourselves on our meetings. We know other organizations with binational staff are less successful at this than we are. It makes me think how much it is to expect of politicians to attempt getting beyond this. But they must.
A Palestinian prefaces her statement of needs with her observation that we Israelis are counting 100(+) days since our hostages were taken into captivity in Gaza. We feel it – a dagger strikes the wound she apparently thinks must be a scratch. She needs us to appreciate the ongoing hell in Gaza and in their lives in the West Bank. Do we not?
This followed a video clip shared the day before in our WhatsApp group showing IDF destruction in Gaza. The first comment by another Palestinian colleague was, “This is genocide.” Not a question, not a possibility, a blanket statement. Horrific it is. Avoidable it is. A hand easy on the trigger. Inexcusable. Not genocide.
The Israeli staff refrains from sharing video clips flooding their social media with a soldier, politician, or convincing civilian, one after another, telling us there is not an innocent Gazan to be found, that in every home in Gaza you will find a Hamas symbol of some kind, maybe together with a copy of Mein Kampf, maybe weapons, or a secret pass to a weapons arsenal, or Hamas gear, or other evidence – no question, no counter example or analysis, a blanket statement. The latest video clip I was foolish enough to watch (from a personal contact) told the saga in TikTok time of an Israeli woman, messages of peace, interacting by phone and other media with a Gazan presumed friend prior to October 7 and in powerfully illustrative terms showing her demise that day, and the revelation that her Gazan presumed friend exploited the naivete of her innocent intentions and drew information from their discussions ultimately serving him in the mission that included her destruction.
This video left me speechless. Not because it was more or less convincing than a video claiming to show IDF attacks on Gaza as Israel conducting genocide. Because it seeks to convince Israelis that there is no basis for any credibility to any intentions of any individual on the other side. The saddest thought of all. Sad to think of its reach. Sad to think it effective. Left speechless. Not left without a thought. I think. It reinforced my conviction – we must find a solution. An agreement must be reached between the demonized and the demonizers – theirs and ours.
Harriet Gimpel, January 20, 2024