The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) selected two names for Israel’s current military assault against an imprisoned Gaza population. This is a military that thinks seriously about naming its military assaults.
The first name given the second Gaza invasion in four years is “Pillar of Cloud” (Amud Anan in Hebrew). It was intended for use in Israeli media and was for Hebrew-speakers. The second name,”Pillar of Defense” was designed for the rest of us, those who are, presumably, less biblically informed.
The Tablet magazine, a U.S.-based, openly Jewish, Israeli-friendly, publication, explains that “Pillar of Cloud” comes from “a direct biblical allusion to the divine cloud which guided the Israelites through the desert and shielded them from those who might do them harm”.
Exodus 14:19-20 is the biblical source:
“Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel.”
From its pro-Israel perspective, The Tablet justified the use of the two terms with this rather supercillious explanation:
“For a campaign intended to halt the barrage of rockets currently raining down on southern Israel, “Pillar of Cloud” is thus a particularly apt title. Just as the cloud protected the Israelites from Egyptian projectiles, so too does the IDF hope to protect Israel’s citizens.
However, a literal translation of a “Pillar of Cloud” fails to convey the meaning of the biblical allusion to a lay audience. As such, the IDF chose ‘Pillar of Defense’ as the campaign’s English designation, a conceptual translation which makes clear the intended meaning of the Hebrew.”
Non-Hebrew speakers, all of whom the Tablet brands as belonging to a “lay audience”, are not asked to think of the IDF as God’s avatar, as are Hebrew language speakers.
By not using the Exodus reference to “Pillar of Cloud” outside of Israel, the IDF appears to have forgotten that there is a segment of the U.S. population that strongly supports Israel on religious grounds. I refer not to the U.S. Jewish voters who favored Obama over Netanyahu’s candidate, Romney, by a 70% margin, but rather, to the self-described white born-again Christian evangelicals who would be thrilled to connect present-day Israel with the ancient Israelites.
The Huffington Post reports that white born-again Christian evangelicals chose Romney over Obama by a 70% to 29% margin, ironically, the same vote difference Jewish voters cast in favor of Obama. The times, they are a-changing.
Not much change is in evidence in Israel’s conservative government, however, where leaders keep following the same old narrative to justify each new assault on its weakest Arab neighbor, the neighbor Israel has confined to an outdoor prison.
In both 2008 and now in 2012, the Gaza assault followed a U.S. presidential election and preceded the inauguration of the winner of that election. Israel’s rationale for attacking Gaza in 2008 is exactly the same rationale Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offers as the reason for Israel’s current “Pillar of Cloud” attack.
During the 2012 U.S. election campaign, Netanyahu tried unsuccessfully to bully candidate Barack Obama into pledging to follow Israel into an airstrike against Iran, which Netanyahu deemed a dangerous threat to Israel’s survival.
Once he failed to lead Obama into joining his Iranian folly, Netanyahu, who knows full well his own IDF lacks the ability to go to war against any of Israel’s strongest neighbors without U.S. backing, turned south to Gaza and discovered, what do you know, now it is Gaza which threatens constant rocket attacks against more than “a million Israelis every day”.
When did this current Gaza invasion begin?
The Institute of Middle East Understanding prepared a timeline of events leading up to Wednesday’s assassination of Hamas leader Ahmed Al-Jaabara in Gaza City, The killing of Hamas’ number two military leader was expected to bring a violent response from Hamas.
On Thursday, November 8, following a two-week lull in violence, Israeli soldiers invade Gaza. In the resulting exchange of gunfire with Palestinian fighters, a 12-year-old boy is killed by an Israeli bullet while he plays soccer. Shortly afterwards, Palestinian fighters blow up a tunnel along the Gaza-Israel frontier, injuring one Israeli soldier.
On Saturday, an anti-tank missile fired by Palestinian fighters wounds four Israeli soldiers driving in a jeep along the Israel-Gaza boundary.
An Israeli artillery shell lands in a soccer field in Gaza killing two children, aged 16 and 17. Later, an Israeli tank fires a shell at a tent where mourners are gathered for a funeral, killing two more civilians, and wounding more than two dozen others.
Sunday, November 11, one Palestinian civilian is killed and dozens more wounded in Israeli attacks.
Four Israeli civilians are also injured as a result of projectiles launched from Gaza, according to the Israeli government. During an Israeli government cabinet meeting, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz urges the government to “cut off the head of the snake… take out the leadership of Hamas in Gaza.” He also calls for a cutting off of water, food, electricity, and fuel shipments to Gaza’s 1.7 million people.
Monday, November 12, Palestinian militant factions agree to a truce if Israel ends its attacks.
This is a timeline that provides a carefully orchestrated Israeli plan of escalation which by Friday afternoon, November 16, had led to three days of intensive airstrikes against Gaza. More than 20 deaths had been reported throughout Gaza this week, according to the Palestinian news outlet, Ma’an. (The picture above is from Gaza City, taken during an Israeli air raid this week.)
On Monday, Benjamin Netanyahu played his role in softening opposition to his well-planned invasion. He spoke to 44 foreign ambassadors at a meeting Israel arranged in Ashkelon, in Southern Israel. The purpose of this event was to describe the rockets from Gaza as a dire threat against Israeli citizens.
What Netanyahu said to the ambassadors about Israel’s “right to defend itself” applies equally to the Palestinians who are held down by Israel’s occupation. Is Netanyahu so caught up in his own Israel First mindset that he does not grasp the reality that at least some of these 44 ambassadors might just be giving some thought to a perspective other than the one Netanyahu describes with such uncomprehending earnestness?
Some of these ambassadors must have come from countries that have gone through their own struggles against outside colonizers.
The clip below runs for six minutes. It shows Netanyahu in his most persuasive hasbara (propaganda) mode:
During his presentation, Netanyahu warned, referring to the rocket attacks Israel has provoked from one faction of militants inside Gaza, “We are going to take whatever action is necessary to put a stop to this. This is not merely our right, it is also our duty”.
Netanyahu had to be aware that one action he had already ordered was the assassination of Ahmed Al-Jaabari, the head of Hamas’ military wing. Two days later, on Wednesday, November 14, Jaabari was killed by an Israeli precision air strike as he was being driven down a crowded Gaza City street.
In its story on the death of Al-Jaabari, the Palestinian newspaper Ma’an, reported:
The military leader (pictured here) survived several Israeli targeted assassination attempts and was lightly injured in one of the attempts in 2004. His eldest son Muhammad, was killed in that attack, along with his brother and three other relatives when Israeli helicopters targeted al-Jaabari’s home in Shujaiyya. Al-Jaabari gained particular prominence for his role in capturing Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who was seized in a cross-border operation by three Palestinian factions in 2006.
Jeremiah (Jerry) Haber is the nom de plume of an orthodox Jewish studies and philosophy professor who divides his time between Israel and the US. On his blog, Haber wrote:
It has been clear for over a year that Israel would wait until after the American elections to launch some act of military aggression, and it was clear, to me, at least, that it would not be directed against Iran, Syria, or Lebanon. It seems likely that Israel had decided to conduct an operation in Gaza before the first rocket was fired from Gaza.
All military actions, indeed, all actions having to do with Gaza, have one goal in mind: the subjugation of the Palestinian people there with minimum cost to Israel. In hasbara speak this is called “protecting Israelis,” “defeating terror,” “defending national security,” even “protecting national honor,” but it boils down to the same thing — Israel cannot be secure if the Palestinians have real independence.
The ending of this assault will depend on a decision by Israel’s Prime Minister, the same leader who determined when it would begin.
Netanyahu may have misjudged Egypt’s reaction to “Pillar of Cloud”. By Friday, November 16, Egypt had sent its Prime Minister, Hesham Kandil into Gaza. Kandil met with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and visited wounded Palestinians at a hospital.
The Egyptian prime minister told reporters in Gaza that Egypt would “save nothing to stop the aggression and achieve a continuous ceasefire on the way to having a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.”
During Israel’s 2008 invasion, Time magazine’s Tony Karon wrote this week, then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak served “as the wall at Hamas’ back in Gaza, tacitly supporting Israel’s efforts to break the grip of a movement aligned with his own Muslim Brotherhood nemesis”.
Today, Mubarak no longer leads Egypt.
Instead, Karon notes, Egypt “is governed by leaders from Hamas’ parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, and is far more responsive to Egyptian public opinion which is innately hostile to Israeli military action in Gaza. He adds, in his column for Time earlier this week:
Responding to the strikes, the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party demanded “swift Arab and international action” to stop the Israeli attacks, warning that Israel to “take into account the changes in the Arab region and especially Egypt,” vowing that the new Egyptian government “will not allow the Palestinians to be subjected to Israeli aggression, as in the past.”
Israel’s parliamentary election, January 22, will determine if Benjamin Netanyahu continues as prime minister. If things do not go well for Israel in this military endeavor, the voters might turn against their war-obsessed leader.
The Arab Spring continues to have a ripple effect that has already toppled several Arab leaders. Will it bring down Netanyahu? Probably not, since Israeli voters have been traumatized by their leaders into believing Netanyahu is their only hope.
Meanwhile outside of Israel, the mantra, “Israel has a right to defend itself”, no longer has the cache Netanyahu thinks it has. World opinion is shifting, slowly, to be sure, but how many more Gaza deaths will the outside world tolerate? Exodus 14:19-20 does not guarantee that the “Pillar of Cloud” will always defend the Israelites against the Egyptians.
In the picture at the top, a Palestinian ambulance worker carries a wounded man after an Israeli air raid. The photo is from Ma’an. It is one of a series of pictures by Reuters photographers Ahmed Zakot, Ibraheem Abu Mustafa, Mohammed Salem and Ali Hassan.