Harriet Gimpel

The Conflicts Within (Within Me)

As I try to reconcile the conflicts within myself, I fight the fight and remind myself that it should be a peacebuilding event – within myself. The message that emerges when that team inside me gets to work is clear and hopeful, and totally inapplicable: Peace must be the outcome, but I fail to identify the partners, even among the activists conducting dialogue. Israelis and Palestinians mired in the mud with their conflicting narratives, committed to treating their differences with respect, to perpetuate communication with the other. Far from a recipe for reconciling narratives, not even a flimsy thread in the shadows of a design for peace.

I preach peace, because I see no alternative, but when I process the discourse of a mutual personal concern of sorts coupled with empathy evasion by my colleagues across the border, that border that Israel draws when it comes to closure for Palestinians (and free passage for settlers), I feel the erosion of my words, with every thread pulled, as the emerging fringe separates into lone and disconnected threads. Yet, when I have the good fortune to interact with friends and former colleagues who are Arabs, citizens of the State of Israel, I move into another room inside myself. I hear the distress, recognize the institutional victimization and extensive societal demonization. That is the place within where my grasp on hope is reinforced.

Israel responsible for the deaths of 7 World Central Kitchen humanitarian aid volunteers in Gaza.  Aghast, silenced, rationalizing the inexcusable – because its war. Because Israel’s hand is just too relaxed on the trigger.


Critical. Isolated. Provincial.

Tomorrow, April 7, 2024, a special television program citing 6 months of war, since October 7, and Haim and I look at each other speechless from the promo. As if there wasn’t a special program yesterday with previously unseen footage from security cameras pieced together with footage from Hamas terrorists’ body cameras, the battle at this kibbutz and that army base, and that followed the previous daily special programs and reports that follow the daily incessant coverage of the war with a few items reminding us there is a whole wide world beyond us.

So, it is no surprise that I continue writing, weekly, more of the same. But I will play it all down today. It is repetitive. And it is new. The list appears on the television screen as I hear the beep on my phone – towns, villages, kibbutzim, cities just attacked by Hezbollah in the north, and the ongoing days when Hamas continues to send rockets from Gaza to southern Israel. Israel knocks off top Iranian military officials in Syria and we anticipate the retaliation. Israelis are told to avoid Israeli restaurants abroad and keep a low profile, far from Israeli embassies.

I overheard the children in the playground, three 10-year-old boys discussing what to expect if Iranian missiles hit here, where we live. I know. The children in Gaza aren’t in a playground and aren’t speculating.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, a Prime Minister named Yitzchak Rabin denigrated Israelis who chose to emigrate. Over the years, a tacit acceptance of the phenomenon evolved in deference to free choice and multiple other considerations. The media covered the issue and the implications and there have been government programs to encourage the return of the brain drain. Last night, we looked at one another after our Friday night family dinner as a Friday night news item essentially covered Israelis living abroad, some for decades and some for just weeks, encouraging others to join them – looming threats of anti-Semitism notwithstanding.

There are no new songs for peace on the radio. There are old songs from old wars – for peace. Loud, new songs of victory repeat a chorus about the victory – and we know it will never be. Songs of victory are songs of conquest, when we need songs of compromise – that is power.

The protests on the streets are reviving. The deceptively inviting interlude of bliss of those who thought the protests and division evaporated into the trauma of October 7 and a united war effort dissolved.

The ultra-Orthodox draft evaders, extremist settlers’ violence, misappropriation of power and a blame game. One branded television station framing a leading figure from last year’s legal reform protests, dousing her and other such personalities with attacks on their personal integrity, supporting every avoidance of responsibility by the Prime Minister.

The ultra-Orthodox self-righteousness pointing its finger at the ostensible perpetrators of the tragic massacre – those of us responsible for delaying the coming of the mashiach (messiah) for our lack of devout religious practices are equally responsible for the wrath of the God they worship allowing Israel to have been the victim of the attack of October 7. Their responsibility – to study Torah and prayer for the safety of the soldiers.

This week, an Israeli citizen from the Arab town, Tira, near where I live, went on a shooting spree with terrorist intentions and results. A media report described one of his brothers calling the police to report the imminent danger. He didn’t explicitly warn of a terrorist attack. He warned that his brother was armed and likely to injure others. The police response could have been faster. I can only wonder, cynically, recalling Ben Gvir is the minister to which the head of police reports, if the prioritization of the warning was undermined because it may have sounded like just another incidence of violence and crime in Arab society that Israel does less than necessary to curb.

The last government, with rotation Prime Ministers Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, Minister of Public Security, Omer Bar-Lev and his Deputy Minister, Yoav Segalovich proved that the situation could be redressed.

The resonating message to the public was to think twice, if at all, about a visit to Tira.

In that other world within me, I calm my emotions when I know the person in front of me is smitten with emotions. She says to me, “And you wanted to live with them in peace.” I calmly manage, “I know, I have difficulty seeing them as partners, but I see no alternative. We’re not going anywhere, and neither are they.” Her response, “It’s either us or them.” That will not result in a peaceful future for her children. But she’s young, and if we generalize, they say the young adults think in short-term bites. I don’t even bother to remind her in that moment of the distinction between Palestinians in the West Bank, or Gaza, as opposed to Arab citizens of Israel.

I know that if my cross-border partners can only see where to place the blame, always on the other, if they can’t transcend the victim mentality, it becomes progressively more difficult for me to argue Israel’s share of responsibility for the gap in growth between Palestinian society (in the West Bank and Gaza) and the growth of the State of Israel. My point of departure of course, does not blame only Israel, and does question why Palestinian society fails to defy its continuous victim of other whims of the Arab world. Building tunnels and arsenals at the expense of education, health, and welfare. Not that I am the conspiracy-minded type. There are questions.

But in that other world within, I listen to a new voice message from my friend from a nearby Arab town in Israel, telling me his daily conversations with his elderly aunt in Gaza have been renewed, telling other stories I would rather not know, because I wish they were not part of Israel’s responsibility in this horrific war. He adds a note of hope and calls me his friend, and in that other world within, I find hope.

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