Harriet Gimpel

Zionism, have you betrayed me? (Feb. 2022)

I struggle to connect unraveling threads of thought. My attention is drawn to the absurd idea of immunity to anti-Semitism in the United States of America. With that invalidated, another string is woven into the conventional justification for the existence of the State of Israel. The threads wrap around a Zionist vision filled with idealism.

Ostensibly safe from anti-Semitism living in Israel, I fend off images of a great Zionist betrayal. This State has an enviable list of accomplishments to its name in its less than 74 years, yet it suffers from a serious case of racism. I recite my mindless mantra that every national struggle has victims. Yet, as an existing nation, this one refrains from confronting its victims’ pain.

I am not in denial of the pain of my people. We continue to have enemies in neighboring Arab states, while we have partners to cold and chilly peace accords, or warmer ones, and we have Palestinian citizens in Israel, and Palestinians in territories we occupy. Palestinian citizens of the State have been educated with the values of democracy and equality, even as the quality of their education falls short of what the system provides to the Jewish population.  It almost appears as if the hegemony primarily demonstrates how to violate the civil rights that a democratic regime committed to equality of its citizens should be upholding.

I recognize the historical injustices against my people in its land before the establishment of the state. I am aware of acts and statements by Palestinians and other Arabs that substantiated fears and concerns that induced anxiety, with the establishment of the state, and with subsequent wars. I don’t need a history lesson with explanations and justifications for every attack by Israel against the Palestinian people. There were Palestinians who responded to calls to destroy my people, some of whom left the land believing neighboring leaders and their own rising leaders that they would soon evacuate Israel’s Jews (into the sea or elsewhere) so they could return and populate this land. And, there were those Palestinian residents forced by Israel to leave, Askalan (or Ashkelon) as a case in point, justifiable in the eyes of the State given hostilities and tensions of the time. This is just the frayed edge of threads intertwined in the complexity of our painful reality.

When the State was 8 years old, within its borders, on the first day of the Sinai Operation in 1956, the Israel Border Police massacred men, women, children, and a pregnant woman in Kfar Kassem in central Israel. This story, known to the public, is slowly becoming the symbol of the unknown stories from the early years of the State – other stories of massacres that researchers are exposing and publishing, and that lefties read. Others prefer to cast doubt. Whether you frequent the picturesque Dor Beach near Zikhron Yaakov or not, the stories of a massacre there in 1948, then the site of the fishing village, Tantura, have recently been reported to the public by eyewitnesses and participants in the shooting. The mass grave where the victims were buried is under the ground now used as the beach parking lot.

Historical records by states and the winning side, as opposed to the absence of national archives for a stateless people in such national struggles secure a place for casting doubt – upon the undocumented versions of history as experienced by the underdog. When this imposed historical perspective is combined with Occupation since 1967, the surprising thing is that we are surprised when soldiers violate regulations and exercise their judgement to confirm death of an already paralyzed terrorist. Such an act, underscoring the polarization of our society, brings to the surface history so convenient to deny, to avoid.

I lamely seek to justify Israel’s ways, given the complexity of the pain and injustice built into its threatened existence, amidst its prosperity. From the stinging sensation of the thought, a voice escapes me: Zionism, have you betrayed me?

Threads unravel. We respond to provocations from Gaza with warfare, and we hold the strings for the electric supply and the water supply, and we preempt provocations. It remains clear that in Israel, there are Palestinian citizens, in pain – loyal citizens, not afforded many of their equal rights, many separated from family once expelled to Gaza and unable to meet there together, under Occupation.

For all the historical injustices, I understand that an apology is not a solution. Is there place for an apology? From when? From who? In whose name? To whom? And an apology to us? Historical apologies at best are overrated.

Decisions are made, legislation passes, sometimes contrary to democracy as I understand it. Reconciling myself to statements that this democracy produces is a frequent challenge. Internal Israeli provocations of right against left, Jew against Arab, and Arab against Jew take their toll on Jewish Israelis’ relations with Palestinian citizens. Acts of inclusion and promotion of equality may warrant acknowledgement, yet pain is sustained. Let us acknowledge that. Let it be with mutuality. Let us set aside a time and place for recognition, just from the Jewish side, lest it otherwise be interpreted as a conditional gesture.

The collective inability of Israel, under a government with a Jewish majority, to recognize the pain of the other is hurtful to me, and the suffering of the other within Israel and within the territories it occupies hurts.

Perhaps my plea for this recognition of pain is self-righteous, presumptuously self-serving a lame attempt to deny that Zionism has betrayed me.


Harriet Gimpel


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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