Blogging the War: Israel-Hezbollah War Given Jewish Historical Name

by Brian on August 4, 2006

in In the News,Living Through Terror,War with Hezbollah

This article was posted on on Thursday, August 3, 2006. The link is here.Will the now “official” name of the war stick?



Last week, I suggested
several possible names for the war in which Israel is currently
embroiled with Hezbollah in the north. Those included the ironic “War
of Disillusionment” and “The War When Reality Finally Sunk In” as well
as the official working titles: “Operation Just Reward” and “Operation
Change of Direction.” Even before that, though, I raised the
possibility in an earlier column that, were the war to be concluded by
today (Aug. 3) – which happens to be the fast of Tisha B’Av according
to the Jewish calendar – the significance would be too much to avoid in
deciding the war’s name.

Jewish scholars will
already have taken notice that the war started at the beginning of the
“three weeks” prior to Tisha B’Av (literally, the ninth day of the
month of Av on the Hebrew calendar) on a date that is also a fast day
known as the 17th of Tammuz (Tammuz is the month in the Hebrew calendar
preceding Av).

The three weeks between
the 17th of Tammuz and the ninth of Av have traditionally been a
mourning period. Jewish weddings are not conducted; observant Jews
eschew live music and entertainment, and avoid eating meat except on

The three weeks
commemorate a whole host of disasters in Jewish history, including the
Jewish people’s defeat at the hands of the Babylonians (resulting in
the destruction of the first Jewish temple in Jerusalem) and
Jerusalem’s defeat 600 years later by the Romans (resulting in the
destruction of Herod the Great’s rebuilt Second Temple). Both these
conquests, according to Jewish tradition, took place on the ninth of

Other tragedies have
subsequently been ascribed to Tisha B’Av – the date of the expulsion of
the Jews from Spain in 1492 during the Inquisition and even dates
during the Nazi Holocaust.

If the war that began on
the 17th of Tammuz and actually ended on the date of the ninth of Av,
we would have no choice but to call it the “Three Weeks War.” Even if
it were to end a bit later, we might still have a bit of a “fudge
factor” to play with.

Well, apparently, the
folks in the naming wars department had the same idea. Israeli Defense
Minister Amir Peretz has announced that the current conflict between
Israel and Hezbollah will be recorded in history as Milhemet Bein
Hameitzarim or literally, “The War Between the Straits.”

Come again?

There aren’t any straits in Lebanon the last time I checked, so this can’t be a literal translation. And it’s not.

The “three weeks,” as
English-speakers have come to know them, is referred to in Hebrew as
Bein Hameitzarim. The expression comes from the scroll of Lamentations,
which is traditionally read on Tisha B’Av evening. In its first chapter
are the lines:

“She dwells among the nations. She finds no rest. All her persecutors overtook her between the straits.”

These words, from the
prophet Jeremiah, are attributed to the nation of Israel, which he
bemoans has forsaken its God. The rest of the scroll spells out in
great detail the misfortunes that will further befall Israel if it does
not repent.

Lamentations, it seems, is not a happy scroll.

While Jeremiah’s words
hardly seem meant to embolden an Israel now fighting for its very
existence, there may be more between the lines, if not the straits.
Milchemet Bein Hameitzarim could refer to the gap (implied in the word
“straits”) between cultures – in this case between the West and
fundamentalist Islam.

In this respect, the
official name of the war reflects both its time period and a clash of
cultures, a highly appropriate metaphor for a post 9-11 Middle East
struggle that has been referred to as everything from a proxy war for
the U.S. and Iran, to the last chance to stop the runaway train that is
Jihad’s battle with the West.

Will a ceasefire be
declared by day’s end? It’s hard to say. After Sunday’s tragedy in
Qana, a previously supportive world opinion has turned tepid, and U.S.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is said to be preparing a draft
ceasefire agreement to be implemented as early as this weekend. At the
same time, Israeli officials and Israel Defense Forces planners are
talking about the war requiring another two weeks and some 15,000
Israeli troops.

Still, whether the dates are exact or not, the irony will not be lost on either the war-namers or the Jewish people.

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