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Hanukkah Games


I was surprised to learn on Saturday afternoon that Israel’s latest assault on Gaza, though not even half a day old, already boasted a Wikipedia entry. I was even more surprised to learn the origins of the assault’s codename.

At first glance, Operation Cast Lead appeared to be quite straightforward in its evocation of imagery, at least in comparison to Operation Summer Rains—Israel’s 2006 foray into Gaza, the title of which may have functioned more appropriately on the cover of a romance novel in the checkout lane of a supermarket. According to Wikipedia, however, the significance of Cast Lead was not readily discernible by superficial symbolic analysis; in other words:

the term lead did not refer to harmful munitions made of heavy metals.

the term cast did not mean “wantonly dispersed in densely populated areas.”

As it turned out, Cast Lead was in fact adapted from a Hanukkah poem by Haim Nachman Bialik, national poet of Israel, who poetically lived and died before the nation of Israel was cast across 78% of Palestine. In one of his works, Bialik speaks of a “dreidel cast from solid lead”—a toy that is now being cast across Hamas-controlled portions of remaining Palestinian percentages.

The Israeli Air Force has demonstrated its acute command of literature on such previous occasions as Operation Grapes of Wrath, in which more than a hundred Lebanese civilians were massacred at the United Nations compound in Qana in 1996. The choice of a literary title provided observers with substantial opportunities for metaphorical reflection on the fine art of Israeli warfare; these reflections could have been further enhanced had the grapes of wrath been replaced with alternate excerpts from Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic”— producing, for example, Operation Trampling out the Vintage, or Operation Coming of the Lord—but the Israelis exercised judicious restraint. In the case of Operation Cast Lead, any references to Haim Nachman Bialik’s celebrated poem “In the City of Slaughter”—concerning the Kishinev pogrom of 1903—were likewise prudently avoided.

The Wikipedia entry for the operation in Gaza contributed its own subtle ironies to the Israeli discourse by reiterating that the Palestinians were to blame for the lead casting process. Issues not explained in the entry included:

whether the Israel Defense Forces possessed a readymade list of literary references, for use whenever the necessity arose.

whether the list was divided into seasons, such as summer and Hanukkah.

whether Hamas had considered naming its counter-operation “Operation Casting of Rockets Made of Sugar, Fertilizer, and other Household Items into the Negev Desert.”

The White House—presently stationed in Crawford, Texas, on a ranch approximately 1/56th the area of the Gaza Strip—refrained from commenting on the academic diligence of the Israeli military establishment, or on the fact that the IAF was now claiming “alpha hits” on scores of Hamas installations such as security headquarters and Palestinian children. Crawford’s own academic depth was contained in such statements by George W. Bush’s spokesman as: “These people are thugs”; Bush’s recovery from other recently perpetrated crimes against humanity was meanwhile aided by the low population density of his Crawford ranch, and the minimal chances of randomly sustaining an alpha hit from foreign footwear.

A subsequent visit to the Wikipedia website failed to verify my suspicions that the term “alpha hit” had also been adapted from the game of dreidel. I did, however, acquire other alphabetically relevant information, which was that the Hebrew letters pictured on the four sides of the dreidel combined to form acronyms for the phrases “A great miracle happened here” or “A great miracle happened there,” depending on whether the dreidel was located within Israel or not. These phrases were:

in reference to the small amount of oil that burned for eight nights during the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem in the 2nd century B.C.

potential concluding slogans for the current campaign in Gaza, provided cast lead proved more effective than economic squeezes.

Additional opportunities for cultural adaptation came to mind thanks to Wikipedia’s English transcription of the popular “Dreidel Song,” a recurring theme of which seemed to be: “Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, it drops and then I win!” The IAF might expand its shrewd manipulation of arts and letters by installing such a soundtrack in its F-16s.

The game of dreidel ends when one player has taken everything in the pot. In Operation Cast Lead, the Palestinians of Gaza have been excluded from the game as players, but they have not been spared as gambling chips.

BELÉN FERNÁNDEZ is currently completing a book entitled Coffee with Hezbollah, which chronicles the 2-month hitchhiking journey through Lebanon that she and Amelia Opali?ska conducted in the aftermath of the July 2006 war. She can be reached at






Belén Fernández is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work.

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