Harriet Gimpel

Three Things – School Bomb Shelter in the Middle

Almost nobody can say anything to me that is right. Whatever people say triggers my internal alarms. Everything feels provocative.

So, if you tell me how justified Israel is, you will infuriate me. Israel is justified in defending itself. But Israel’s actions in Gaza have exceeded the justifiable. How do you reconcile this with the Jewish identity in which I took pride? If we are so technological, the startup nation, couldn’t we have avoided civilian losses when aiming for Hamas? Tell me civilians were warned. I’ll tell you maybe not enough, or, more afraid of their fate at the hands of Hamas if they left.  Dangers facing Israeli artillery forces entering buildings with tunnels below and sensors or remote-control explosive activators at their doorways, apparently tipped the scales for air attacks. Couldn’t we find another way, another time?

How can we bring the remaining hostages back to Israel before it’s too late? Why don’t we have a plan for the day after? Whatever that plan will be – why didn’t we have it on October 6, 2023? Tell me there was a ceasefire. We knew that wasn’t a solution.

If you tell me how victimized the Palestinians are, you will infuriate me. I know, they are victims of the occupation on the West Bank, and in the best of times in Gaza the so-called disengagement from Israel leaves Israel responsible, the responsibility that falls on Hamas notwithstanding. Now, Gazan children are starving because there is no food. Israeli hostages never visited by the Red Cross is irrelevant to providing vaccines to Gazan children. Drawing parallels, draws no conclusions. Israelis and Palestinians acknowledging the right of the other to live on this blood-soaked land, could lead to mutual acceptance of the fact that some things will never be resolved. We need a shared decision to get over it.

Tell me I’m getting repetitive. I said it last week, last month, last year.

You tell me about Israel’s moral superiority. I suggest you stop deceiving yourself. Israel deported hundreds of thousands of Arabs upon its independence. Try to reconcile the values of equality with practices to the contrary by socialist kibbutzniks in the 1950s.

You tell me how terrible Israel is. I remind you of Jewish history, the number of Jews in the world, their perpetual fight for survival facing unending persecution. I could mention the massacre in Hebron, and other stories of Arab brutality towards Jews. Some look at the picture without the frame, some see the frame without looking at the picture.

Read the Nakba narrative. Read variations of the Zionist narrative. The evil, violent Jew that the Palestinian describes is diametrically opposed to the image conjured up by Jewish education, in Israel or abroad. Exchange “Jew” for “Arab” and “Arab” for “Jew.” You will find how so many testimonies are 180º apart. It begs questioning their credibility, one at a time. Question your truths. Live in conflict with yourself. Live with your dissonance.

Or close your eyes and embrace the narrative that simplifies your life. But when I feel blamed for the injustices, the horrors, I get angry, I am struggling.

Just because I have NEVER voted for Netanyahu, doesn’t mean I don’t look at Haim over our morning coffee and frustratedly announce that Ben Gvir is not me or you, but Ben Gvir is you and me, because he is our government, and our government enables him.

You feel your muscles contract. You know another internal punch is coming, because you are thinking, or watching the news, or listening to someone internally torn to shreds seeking answers you don’t have.

Empathy for a colleague from Jenin (on the West Bank) doesn’t mean I’m not afraid of a tunnel there, and the yet unfound tunnels in Gaza. Doesn’t mean that I don’t think about 150,000 Israelis evacuated from their homes too close to Gaza for comfort or too close to Lebanon for comfort, and wonder if attacks on Kfar Saba were imminent from just beyond the concrete fence or the part where there is no fence separating us from Jaljulya, where would we be sent? Afraid of evacuation – compressing the population of this small country into such a little space would be the danger itself.  Wouldn’t want to be an evacuee from northern Gaza.

Afraid of an air raid. Enough. Fears back in the box.

On Thursday, I drove to the neighboring city, Raanana, to pick up our 4th grade granddaughter at school. On the way, there were radio reports of sirens warning that missiles were launched against the area close to Gaza, then in other areas frequently attacked. I parked and walked towards the school. My phone lit up. The app showed sirens warning of missiles headed for Kfar Saba. Then I heard sirens in Raanana – 90 seconds to get to a shelter or lay on the pavement near the parked cars. That’s the drill. Parents ran to the school, to the shelter, so I ran – faster than I knew I could. It would have been amusing if it didn’t break my heart to see 1st-6th grade kids crowded in a bomb shelter. Most of them appeared unmoved by the situation. Some boys and girls were crying. My granddaughter saw a younger child crying and put her arm around her. Outside afterwards, her first question was if her grandfather had gone into a shelter when the siren sounded. We called him to check. Shrapnel from the Iron Dome interception fell in the schoolyard of the school she went to last year in Tel Aviv.

Routines resume. We went to the mall, came home, baked cupcakes, and picked her sisters up from nursery school and kindergarten.

Why couldn’t I shake the thoughts about the shelter that evening? I reminded myself we’re lucky not to be in Gaza under attack by the IDF, or starving because Hamas confiscates the humanitarian aid provided. We’re fortunate, we’re safe.

Then it hit me, we were in a bomb shelter. A siren went off and the schoolchildren ran to the bomb shelter. Safe. Then I remembered.

October 7.

Israelis were burned alive in bomb shelters.

What was the third thing I had to say?  Hope. Embrace 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.
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