Most of the time, the English and Hebrew names of Israel’s wars and military operations are pretty similar.
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The War of Independence, the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War are known as such in Hebrew as well as in English, and the English names of more recent skirmishes like Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, the Second Lebanon War of 2006 and one of the lead-ups to the current campaign – Operation Cast Lead in 2008 – are also pretty straight translations of the Hebrew names.
In 2012, the Israel Defense Forces tweaked the English name of the most recent prequel to the current hostilities. Its Hebrew name, Mivtza Amud Anan, means Operation Pillar of Cloud, an allusion to God’s protection of the Israelites after their exodus from Egypt: “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud [b’amud anan], to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light” (Exodus 13:21).
But the mysterious operation-name wonks apparently decided this was not suitable for a foreign audience. Perhaps they worried it would be too subtle (a cloud, after all, doesn’t sound all that intimidating), or didn’t want the army to be accused of having a God complex, or feared it would be interpreted as a reference to the clouds of post-bomb smoke over Gaza.
Or maybe they thought that by calling it Operation Pillar of Defense rather than Pillar of Cloud, the name could become an integral part of the PR campaign, helping people subconsciously think of the operation as a defensive campaign meant to protect Israelis rather than an offensive one meant to attack Palestinians.
That reasoning might sound a bit far-fetched, but it’s not much different than the backdrop to many an ad campaign serving corporate ends rather than political ones. The fact that the English name of the current operation, Protective Edge, once again incorporates the same idea – using “protective” instead of “defense” this time – indicates to me that this kind of subliminal advertising doctrine holds sway among the unnamed naming wonks, the backroom boys of military monikers.
And the fact that Protective Edge is so different from the Hebrew name – Tzuk Eitan, or Mighty Cliff – reinforces the impression that this emphasis on defense is a message geared toward outsiders, at least in part because many Israelis already consider it self-evident that while shooting down rockets one by one can be a pretty effective way of reducing casualties, it doesn’t do much to stop the next rocket from being launched.
But what about the Hebrew name? Is it just that Mighty Cliff conveys fortitude, or is there something else to it?
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Tzuk means “rock,” “cliff” or “precipice,” and may have been derived from mutzak, meaning “solid,” or from yatzak, which means “pour” or “cast” – you know, the kind of thing you do with lead. In Gaza.
In Hebrew, then, Tzuk Eitan seems to be a continuation of Oferet Yetzuka (Cast Lead) – the Hanukkah-time operation whose name in Hebrew alludes to a popular song about a dreidel written by the celebrated poet Haim Nahman Bialik – just as the English operation names have gone from Pillar of Defense to Protective Edge, linguistically reinforcing the connection between Cast Lead II and self-defense.
To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.