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Name of Israel’s anti-Hamas operation has biblical meaning
Smoke billows from a spot targeted by the Israeli military inside the Gaza Strip last week.
November 20th, 2012
09:49 AM ET

Name of Israel’s anti-Hamas operation has biblical meaning

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) – To English speakers, the name of Israel’s anti-Hamas campaign sounds pretty straightforward: “Operation Pillar of Defense.”

But reading the name of the Israeli operation in Hebrew might provoke some head-scratching. In Hebrew, the Israel Defense Forces have branded their recently launched anti-Hamas effort as “Operation Pillar of Cloud.”

An IDF spokesman explained that most Israelis would recognize “Pillar of Cloud” as a biblical reference.

“It’s based on the pillar of cloud that accompanied the the nation of Israel during the Exodus as they left Egypt and traveling toward Israel,” said Eytan Buchman, head of the North American media desk for the IDF.

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“They wanted the protection from the troubles of the desert, from robbers and people that would attack them and from snakes and scorpions.”

Buchman said the anti-Hamas operation’s Hebrew name is meant to send the message that it is a defensive maneuver.

“We are coming up on a decade of rockets being fired indiscriminately at civilians,” Buchman said, referring to Hamas’ actions in southern Israel. The Jewish state’s current military operation, he said, “is a proverbial cloud that is coming to protect you.”

The Bible’s first reference to a cloud pillar comes in Exodus 14, which describes the Israelites’ flight from bondage, culminating in Moses’ parting of the Red Sea.

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“The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them,” reads the passage in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

"It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel,” the passage continues. "And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.”

The idea of the cloud pillar refers to both physical and spiritual protection, according to Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, who leads Ohev Sholom, the National Synagogue in Washington.

“The spiritual message here is about praying to God for protection,” said Herzfeld, who heads an Orthodox congregation. “In Exodus, the pillar of cloud is spiritual protection of the Israelis.”

Herzfeld said the biblical reference would be instantly recognizable to the many Israelis who have had Jewish educations.

The phrase also appears in the Bible’s Book of Psalms, in a verse that says God spoke to Hebrew leaders like Moses, Aaron and Samuel “in the pillar of cloud.”

Israel’s choice of Hebrew words has provoked some criticism online.

"By calling this operation 'Pillar of Cloud,' the IDF are, in a sense, calling themselves God,” tweeted @joshua_eaton, whose Twitter bio describes him as a journalist covering religion and politics. “And they act like they believe that, too."

A blogger for the website Gawker, meanwhile, said that calling the Israeli operation a “pillar of cloud” evoked “an all-powerful, vengeful God seeking to demonstrate the primacy of his chosen people, to guide them in their affairs, and to confound their enemies.”

“Did Israel launch this attack because there was no other rational route to maintain its security?” asked the Gawker blogger, John Cook. “Or was it pursuing a broader agenda rooted in ancient mysticism?”

The IDF’s Buchman said he contacted Cook to challenge his interpretations, saying the Israeli military merely wanted to stress what he called the operation’s defensive nature.

“Inside the Bible,” Buchman said, “the cloud was defined as (following people that were) leaving and running away from a full army that had enslaved it.”

Buchman noted that previous IDF operations have also used biblical references.

In 2002, he said, the IDF used the name “Operation Noah’s Ark” for the seizure of a Palestinian vessel loaded with rockets, missiles and explosives.

And a 2008 IDF operation in Gaza was called “Operation Cast Lead,” which began during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah and references a popular Hanukkah song.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Bible • Israel • Judaism • Military

soundoff (1,431 Responses)
  1. Steve

    I thought it was a pillar of fire but what do I know.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • Akhmed

      It was both! Cloud by day, Fire by night...

      November 20, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • mala sangre

      you didn't read the whole story

      November 20, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  2. aizen

    this war must end, noone these people are special despite their dellusional beliefs...i am really starting to think human beings are an experiment that went horribly wrong even the gods who made them left this corner of the universe....

    November 20, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
  3. Frederick1337

    LOLOLOLOL. Why isn't ODIN with you Jews now then eh? Hahahahhah. Why don't you Jews tell them? OK I will. ODIN does not favor cowards who disarm their enemy, like communist Israel does to Hamas.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  4. ExMuslim

    The "Sixth Pillar" of Islam is Jihad (Holy War)

    November 20, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  5. Jorge Ferreyra

    El gran invento de la biblia sustenta falsamente la existencia de Israel. Moises no existió. La bilia es un texto redactado politicamente para justificar la existencia de Israel. ES LA GRAN MENTIRA.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Buenos Tacos

      November 20, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • Yankee4Life493

      Jorge, unfortunately most people here can't read/write/speak Spanish (la mayoria no comprenderia lo que escribiste). I am sure that there is CNN Spanish.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • noel

      "yo quiero taco bell"

      November 20, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  6. c

    I doubt the political Zionist controlling Israel care to grasp the reason why they were in Exodus in the first place. We're all sinners here.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • Minion

      All slaves too...

      November 20, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • chad burdick

      Why not mention Samson option? I think If your going to mention Israel's biblical operations The one your readers will be most interested in, is the one where if Israel is ever overran again, or contaminated then Israelis actually believe the rest of the world should be destroyed. The 2 pillars being russa, and china, our supposed ally Israel not only spies on us more than any other nation, had more covert operations on our soil, but has a nuke aimed right at us. I guess like Rupert Murdock says your not going to hear from it from Jewish ran media. well Zionist ran media would be more accurate.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  7. Amazed

    This is the belief blog?

    Are you people this angry in real life, or just behind the safe anonymity of a computer screen?

    What a bunch of trolls.

    You all are welcome to the sewer of the internet. I think I'll climb out and interact with real people for a while.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  8. Ken

    Book of Pslams? (Somebody had their spell checker off...)

    November 20, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  9. T Truth

    So your expressed mission is to destroy Israel, you fire your missiles into Israeli territory, hide your explosives and headquarters in densely populated civilian neighborhoods with the understanding that retaliation will destroy your own people, and hopefully turn global sympathies in your direction. When retaliation comes then the TV cameras are turned on and dead are marched through the streets.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  10. palichampion

    Ignorance abounds. Israel started this latest in a 64 year string of attacks on innocents, some of whom are legitimately resisting Israel's invasion of and illegal expansion onto their lands.

    As usual, the current conflict was initiated by Israel, twice, concealed by the lobby-controlled US press. On November 5 and 8, Israel killed an unarmed Palestinian man and a 13 year-old boy playing soccer. Hamas retaliated with rockets. Soon, following a November 13 truce agreement, Israel assassinated a prominent Hamas leader/negotiator. The defensive forces of Hamas, the democratically elected representative leaders of the Palestinian people, then RETALIATED by launching unguided rockets over the Israeli-imposed concentration camp walls of Gaza into Israel. That gave Israel excuse to once again falsely claim that rockets were the reason for their murderous attacks on people locked behind walls with nowhere to hide.

    Israel also did this in 2008-9 when it rained death and destruction onto Palestinian neighborhoods for a 22 day period in which 1400 innocent people lost their lives, including 350 children.

    Rockets fired from Palestine at Israel have killed about 30 Israelis since Sep 2000. What Zionist-owned US media fails to disclose is that Israeli rockets fired from warplanes, helicopters and drones have killed thousands of Palestinians over the same 22 year period, and that Israel's bombs, tank, artillery and warship shells have killed thousands more. More Israelis die in auto accidents in a given 3 week period than have died by rockets fired by Palestinians, but all we hear about in Western media is "Israel has a right to defend itself against attack by rockets."

    Israel is the aggressor state, and as such it loses all claim to right to defend against RETALIATION for that aggression. Palestinians however, do have legitimate rights to defend against and resist aggression under international law, but every time this and other issues are brought to the UN Security Council by Palestinians, the US blocks action by veto power. It is because of this and because of military actions by the US in support of Israel (the shelling by the US Navy on a Lebanese town in 1982 for example, that killed hundreds of innocent people in a refugee camp) that our buildings were flown into on 9/11.

    It is Israel, not Palestinians which doesn't want peace, as peace would mean declared borders and an end to its racist colonial project of expanding onto ever more Palestinian land.

    Google: Palestinian loss of land map to see what this conflict is REALLY about.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • Akhmed

      LOL! So you support Islam's Holocaust against the Palestinians, or I mean the Jews.... Jordan/ Israel is palestine you nit-wit....

      November 20, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  11. Socal Reggae

    Smoke Nugs – not Nations.
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFlbKIHeouA&w=640&h=390]

    November 20, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  12. flatpicker

    In this article it states that Israel has attacked ? I do believe Israel has attacked anyone ? All of this is just a defensive move that should have happened after the first rocket was launched. I know the USA would the same thing ?

    November 20, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  13. afatcow123

    Get the ingnorant idea that all religons are essentially the same out of your thick heads. although they may be similar on some ethics they are very diffrent. stfu

    November 20, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • Peace

      As your screenname suggests you are a fat cow so why don't you stop with your ignorant comments and go out there to feed off on more BS :) They should require an IQ test before letting people comment under articles.... SMH!

      November 20, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  14. Big_D

    Hamas is like the drunk guy in your party that is trying to start a fight with everyone at the bar. It is time to take your friend out to the parking lot and kick the crap out of him before you all die.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  15. TCC Ethics Class CAL

    I think both of these groups of people are wrong. What's the point in killing each other? Using bible stories/names doesn't help.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • Minion

      I'll tell you the point of killing each other...The only way to end the conflict over there is to kill everyone on one side, then no conflict, as long as on Arab or One Jew lives, they will fight...

      November 20, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  16. aizen

    my question is, if god's chosen people are the jews/israelis. why on earth everyone else following that god? he doesnt want you. he chose his people. make your own god like the israeli did...oh and abraham wasn;t a jew, look up UR where he ails from. it is more like iran/iraq...the israeli and palestinians need peace and must look for it out of those ancien useless books. and for those supporting those books, i would like for you to love it if a loved one is stoned to death when they do something not acceptable in those books..you can't just pick and choose what is good for you in the books. either you accept it all or you ignore it all...

    November 20, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • elena

      because most ppl are stupid and are very happy to be the servants of the jews! God's chosen ppl are those who accept Jesus

      November 20, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • flatpicker

      Dude, You are so clueless! Please stop talking about the bible and Abraham. You have no idea what you are saying and it really shows.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • noel

      Just because he chose them that's not necessarily a good thing. He chose them to be an example of how wrong humanity can go if they don't listen to the God of love. There are more stories of bad examples of Jews than good ones. Anyway the beloved people of God are the Hebrews & they are scattered to the four corners of the earth. They could be any race...<

      November 20, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  17. MashaSobaka

    I REALLY want to believe that the occupation of Palestine isn't a religious conflict. But then Israel pulls crap like this and I have a lot of difficulty seeing their government as anything but bigoted.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Pepou27

      It's a pillar of stupidity, if ever there was one.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • elena

      you want to believe that the creation of Israel has no religion back ground? seriously! what planet have you been living in?

      November 20, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  18. WisdomVS

    Reality Check: Conflicts like this are a marketing tool for weapon manufacturers to sell their old outdated weapons to small third world countries. It's part of the global economy. They'll never sell either side the firepower needed to end the conflict once and for all. That would compromise their long term financial growth. It is what it is.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Opizze

      This was pretty poorly thought out, seeing as Israel could have ended this conflict decisively several times over. Nuclear weapons or conventional ones, they far out-class their opposition in terms of power. This war is not an advertisement for security firms guy; they do enough marketing at their own expense (or at the expense of tax payers, it seems).

      November 20, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  19. Corner Cafe

    Filthy Hindu Hoagie Ism

    This delicious toasty ism Sub Sandwich ism is stacked high with Ham, Turkey ism, Hard Salami and Pepperoni ism, covered in melting Provolone Cheese ism and fresh lettuce ism, tomato and bell pepper ism. We lather on the Italian ism dressing and mayo ism and serve it piping hot ism. Comes with a pickle ism and your choice of macaroni salad ism or potato salad. All for just $7.99 ism!

    November 20, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Which God?

      @ CC.Oh, that was just too ism funny ism!.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  20. correctlycenter

    People of Israel, most Christians in the U.S. support you! God tells us to bless you and He also brought you back to the land in 1948 (Isaiah 66).God bless you and know without any doubt, most Christians who know the bible realize the importance of supporting Israel and the LORD's favorite place, Jerusalem. Shalom...

    November 20, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • MashaSobaka

      Follow-up: People of Israel, most non-Christians in the US would REALLY like you to stop slaughtering civilians in their own homes and give these people a fraction of the land that was stolen out from underneath their feet BACK to them!

      November 20, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • Akhmed

      LOL! Israel already gave up 75% of the land it hand to Muslims. You want it to give more? PLEASE educate yourself!!! British Mandate/ TransJordan – Look it up, it will change your life...

      November 20, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • Jacob

      Hamas is the ones killing innocent lives! Do you really expect Israel to allow the continuous threat of rocket fire among their people?

      November 20, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • flatpicker

      MashaSobaka – Who owned the land before it was given back to Israel in 1948 ? Do you even know ? I give you a hint, it wasn't Palestine. Israel has claimed this land for over 3000 years ? Do you know of anyone else that have claimed the land that long ? In fact, do you know of another nation today that has been around for the last 3000 years ?

      November 20, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • Pepou27

      Your "God" is not everyone's God. The problem in the Middle East is the poisonous religion, on both sides.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • Charles

      Chosen People? My guess is that its the Jews who designated themselves as chosen. Chosen of what though?

      November 20, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • Charles

      Give the Palestinians some of their land back already. Chosen my A$$

      November 20, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • wechosenpeople

      Thank you Christians of USA for recognising the fact that God has promised us the land which our anchestor left 4000 years ago. We reclaiming what is ours ... we are not pushing anybody into the sea. We just mowed down few tbousand acres of orchards and the old olive trees cor that. Off course we have to shoot down few slingshot armed kids

      November 20, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • noel

      Do you know why God told Moses he could not enter the Promise land? Because it's not here on earth, the Israel on this earth is NOT the promise land...Peace be with you<

      November 20, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.