Harriet Gimpel

Unity, Supremacy, Moderacy – Not

Once upon a time, when asked, and I was asked, my thoughts on BDS[1], I breathed a sigh of indecisiveness, and decisively said: I can’t back something determinately aimed against Israel. That said, then and now, I hesitatingly add that if that’s what it takes to rattle the government of Israel towards ending the Occupation which I can perceive only as detrimental to Israel and democracy, then BDS may serve our interests. That is not an endorsement of BDS or its comprehensive approach. It is me flailing helplessly to see change by the governments of Israel over the years.

The operational defense conception put in place by Netanyahu and his governments over the years proved catastrophic on October 7. Yes, I am stuck there. You would be too if you lived in Israel. Every day and every night the news is largely about October 7. Moscow did seep in last night. The news shifts to every day and every night since October 7, Israel attacking Gaza. Or Lebanon. Syria. Hezbollah. A word about the Houthis. The latter evident in prices of imported goods. Back to Hamas. Every day new evidence in Gaza of the breadth of intent to destroy Israel.

The conception empowering Hamas over the Palestinian Authority proved catastrophic on October 7. It remains inseparable from the perpetuation of the Occupation. Not justification for Hamas war crimes.

Defense and retaliation by Israel justifiable. War crimes are an inevitable component of warfare. Not justifying war crimes. Aware of the conflicting message. Unknowns are always about the path not taken. I prefer Chuck Schumer to BDS when it comes to conveying a message to Israel.

This time last year, we demonstrated at least once weekly with over 200,000 Israelis who took to the streets and major highway intersections, protesting the government’s proposed sabotage of our legal system. Like Sinwar, you probably heard concerns that Bibi will lead us to civil war.

October 7. Unity. You couldn’t fool me. Billboards about winning this together, unified. A little modesty. October 7. We lost. We better bring down Sinwar. We can beat Hamas – the organization, not the idea. But divided we are. Divided. Only new leadership can reduce the polarity. Hope.

* * *

Moderacy, not supremacy, and mutual respect would work for me. As I sift through ideas, swivel, and turn, trying to keep my balance, true to my values, but opening my arms to alternative approaches, I embrace imbalance and confusion, and look for grounding. Two ostensibly, but not necessarily, unrelated examples:

Voices of reason and moderacy in Islam seem lost in the silence bolstering extremism. Israel can be criticized without endorsing its destruction. I wonder if there is a culturally imposed tacit ban on vocal criticism of using Islam’s sacred texts to justify extremist Muslim perpetrators of terrorism. Hamas has a genocide plan. I empathize with Muslims opposing this extremism, victims of Islamophobia, regardless of their largely, presumptively, muted voices.

I expect others to put on their thinking caps and distinguish between their opposition to some Israeli policies and their attitudes towards Israelis (Jewish and Arab) and Jews. Another internal voice intervenes as I criticize terrorism by extremist Israeli settlers, citing the absence of worldwide Jewish or Christian movements wreaking terror like extremist Islamic movements. Even if not refutable, it’s no justification for voices of Israeli supremacy.

My internal struggles with the cacophony was disrupted last week by a professional exchange of correspondence with two representatives of a small, international Christian organization for peace. Following its award to the cross-border organization I work for, representing Palestinians (from the West Bank) and Israelis, an invitation was extended to an event in September in Europe, and an earlier webinar in April. They kindly inquired about our wellbeing. We shared an exchange of hopes for peace and a ceasefire. The webinar is scheduled for the first day of Passover. I politely called attention to this possibly preventing participation of Jewish Israeli representatives of our organization. Correspondence continued. My comment unacknowledged.

In the exchange about ending the war, they called for an end to the genocide. I refrained from commenting. I wrote to the other two Israelis included in the correspondence expressing my disappointment that an organization ostensibly promoting peace succumbs to populist definitions, or perhaps disregards definitions.  One colleague explained that this reflects how we are perceived in the eyes of the world, with photojournalism from Gaza telling the story. I think I understood that independently.

The credibility of questioning the ethics of Israeli military tactics is diminished when the critic indiscriminately invokes genocide. Not speaking from a position of supremacy. Seeking accuracy. Leaving the statement unchallenged is complicity – so they say. Professional propriety on the other hand called for the Israeli co-director telling me that in my position I could comment on the inaccuracy of the statement. I got an unsaid message because my radar picks up frequencies. I might want to reconsider my professional affiliation.

In a world where BDS and movements advocating for a Palestinian state effectively deny the continued right of the Jewish people to its state, I feel offended. I feel lonely. I understand – the world is predisposed. Antisemitism.

* * *

Cynicism often qualifies my attitude towards statistics. When the statistician acknowledges counter-intuitive results, it piques my interest, and by my standards, adds credibility. In that spirit, since October 7, I am an avid follower of surveys by Dr. Khalil Shikaki and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey in Ramallah, supported by the reputable Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. The most recent survey published[2] substantiates my fears. If you follow the link to the source, please do yourself the service of reading it in its entirety. The opening remarks indicate an ostensible shift in Palestinian attitudes in Gaza and the West Bank towards lesser support for Hamas.

This survey can only be misunderstood if you read the beginning and the end to get the idea. To understand Gazans’ fear of Egyptian soldiers, for example, you must read the whole survey. There are interesting distinctions between responses in Gaza vs. the West Bank. Regretfully, it compels me to question the intentions and convictions of my Palestinian colleagues from the West Bank. I will ask them. I must. I have my doubts about the partnership. Each individual can disavow, or reinforce, my concerns. Nothing has the power to change my commitment to peacebuilding. Struggling to find feasible methods. The Shikaki survey is discouraging. The policies of the Israeli government and the spokespersons of the extreme right and extreme settlers are discouraging.

Let our only fight be to elevate methods for resolving conflict. Peace is like the weather, it has chilly seasons, and it has warmer seasons, but it’s better, all year, than war.

Harriet Gimpel, March 23, 2024

[1] Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement against Israel, to impose pressure on Israel to end the Occupation and injustices against the Palestinian people. I find several disputable points in the BDS arguments. Despite its stated mission to the contrary, BDS appears to endorse anti-Semitism.


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