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
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(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. Lion Head

    Jonny Caruso unfortunately for you religion has come to stay until the end of this present age because man will continue to hunger for and acknowledge the existence of that supreme being (GOD) within himself either consciously or unconsciously. Whether you believe in GOD or not, acknowledge HIS existence or not, no matter your effort to suppress this inert feelings

    November 20, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Yeah! Right after monkeys fly out of my butt!

      Religion is atool to keep the stupid in chains, and you are living proof it is working

      November 20, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • pastapharian

      funny stuff, Lion. too bad it's all fiction for the gullible as a means to control you through fear, guilt, and intimidation. Sad, really.

      November 20, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  2. wally

    I would of named it...Irving.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • *

      * would have - or would've (not would of)

      November 20, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  3. Fair Voice

    Both israelis and Palestinians will not like the comments below, but they are my thoughts on the issue.

    FIRST: both sides of this conflict are wrong, but israel fundamentally is the root of the problem. In 1949 Britain gave parts of palestine that it colonized (was not Britains to give) to mostly Ashkenazi germans and other european jews. THIS IS THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM that everyone is pretending to forget. How exactly should palestinians proceed to recover the land taken from them? How would Americans or any other people respond to eviction? Some argue that jews were booted off the land 2000yrs ago so they are justified in taking it from the palestinians 2000years later....by that logic is the palestinians not therefore even more justified to take it back now since they were only booted about 60yrs ago? Should native americans boot all whites off their land we call america and ship us all back to europe? Should blacks boot all whites and arabs out of africa? Should aboriginals boot all whites out of australia and canada? Should caribs boot all non-carribs out of the carribbean? all of these are were displaced more recently than 2000yrs ago.

    I won't even bother to touch on the issue that ancient israelites were NOT european and NOT white (jesus the jew was not european and he was not white), yet the german, russian, etc european/white jews of today are claiming ancestry with NON-whites as a basis for taking palestine – how ludicrous is that perverse logic it is shocking rational minds are hijacked to not dismiss it as laughable?. The israeli premise is a tribalistic error logic and only brains hijacked by religion and tribalism could not see this as clearly illogical and counter-factual...(yeah, yeah...tell me about how the whites interbred with the dark skinned ancient jews and dna research supports this: it seems a joke to fight so hard to prove DNA/genetic relationship to ancient dark skinned people while killing modern dark skinned people....is this irony lost on the illogicals?....why not give the modern dark skinned people a BIG HUGH since you love their ancestors so much?

    Anyways on to more sensible matters:
    Notwithstanding Britain wrongfully gave palestinian land to Askenazi/white/european/german jews – and while this is unfortunate – Hamas is wholly wrong with its pure hatred and clear desire to slaughter fellow humans living in what is now israel. it is clear hamas pores drip with hate instead of sweat. Two wrongs do not make a right! In fact Hamas is so dumb that they surrender the moral high-ground and undermine the progress the world would support them in making by being hatefully violent. Hamas should take a page out of the books of Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Mandela to learn how an oppressed people can fight an unrelenting oppressor and win! The world is ready to stand with the palestinians, but Hamas extremist blows that opportunity up in smoke with their virulent hate...

    1) Israel should drop the dumb ancestry/religious arguments as a rationale for their existence
    2) palestinians and arab allies were just in launching war after britain gave parts of palestine to Ashkenazi's in 1949 – however the fact is the arabs lost the subsequent wars. The 1967 borders represent the results of these wars; palestinians should accept their losses and accept israel as a country. Any militant group promising to return them to the 1949 status is wasting what should be productive lives.
    3) United States should use its muscle to compel israeli and palestine to accept the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as shared capital of both states. Israel must stop and dismantle all west bank settlement construction, Hamas must stop firing rockets and renounce terrorism as a tactic irrespective what israel does. Palestinians must make their battle one of moral suasion and diplomacy (not violence).
    4) If the palestinians adopt a non-violent, peaceful strategy, then the U.S. and international community should impose sanctions on israel (just as it did south africa & former Rhodesia) until israel accepts the 1967 borders, cease west bank construction, cease military incursions and cease occupation and oppression of palestinians.
    5) If palestinians fail to adopt non-violence or if israel fail to stop occupation, cease and dismantle illegal settlements; them U.S. should cut funding to BOTH israel and palestine until the 2 of them come to their senses and agree to the 1967 borders or some other arrangement to which the 2 agree to on their own.

    The world has real issues such as global warming and the current financial crisis to be bothered with these 2-idiots (israel & palestine) and their primitive pre-historic tribal wars.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • Peter

      The only problem is that the Palestinians are run by Hamas which is a terrorist organization and it has been a long standing policy of the United States not to negotiate with terrorists.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • Fair Voice

      U.S. need not 'negotiate' with Hamas to cut funding and compel both tribes to behave.

      saw your Hosea 4:6 posting: i like it!

      November 20, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
  4. Dump hinduism, illegality of Evolution, way of hindu's, deniers of truth absolute GOD, sons of LANGOOR, SELF CENTERED


    Never trust a hindu Jew, criminal self centered and their western hindu gentile, terrorist slaves, it is not less than trusting a hindu hungry beast, they hind lie and use hinduism deceit including GOD and word peace to achieve their hindu criminal agenda of hinduism, enslavement around the globe. To learn fundamentals of their hindu racist agenda, please visit limitisthetruth.com
    Word hindu is based on Latin word hindered, Hun, great, Han, to be in greatness, hin, to be negative to both of them, hindu, a noun in negativity, hinduism, way of negativity.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      use English goon,

      November 20, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  5. pete fountain

    I envision the end of time. God gets everyone that has ever lived, together (all those in heaven and hell) into one gigantic auditorium. He has one more surprise announcement. He says, those currently in heaven and hell are only there conditionally, for he is going to announce the winning religion. He announces the winning religion, you hear a few muffled roars and cheers in the background. Then, suddenly without warning a trap door opens up on all the non-winners and they all go to hell.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • Artie Shaw

      What's up Pete?

      November 20, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • hoser

      sure hope I'm on that trap door

      November 20, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  6. WayOut

    It would be nice if more schools were opened both in Gaza and Israel that taught both sides how to get along with each other. May be the british folks should take the lead on this because they have done enough colonizing countries but didn't do a good job educating its colonies.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  7. Peter

    Hosea 4:6

    November 20, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  8. kebo72

    Wow, lot's of unnecessary time spent debating the name of a military operation. Who cares.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • ?

      I care very much. Very much indeed.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  9. First

    The Jews not the Jewish were given the nation of Israel not for their righteousness then or now, but for the wickedness of other nations at that time. Rev 2:9 & Rev 3:9, the Lord knows the TRUE SHEEPEOPLE. 1 Life, 1 Love, 1 King, LOVE Is LOVE.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
  10. Robert

    What do you do when 3000 years of history, diverse religious and political views exist, and women and children are caught in the middle of never ending warfare? Sit down and talk, listen, forgive and find unity in saving women and children.......but it is harder than killing.....

    November 20, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  11. sincedutch

    Middle east conflict is getting boring.

    Tired of it.. . like a re-run over and over... eventually you won't watch... this is one I could care less about.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • Peter

      Adolph is that you?

      November 20, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  12. john2397

    WHY Obama/Hillary did not intervened from the day one to stop killings and destruction? Only because, the attack was planned jointly, executed jointly and now may be stopped jointly after obtaining desired goals. But, it looks like a faulty and very damaging strategy. By killings innocents, several children in hands, America and Israel has doubtlessly breed not only hatred among the millions of Muslims around the globe but made easy for the Jihadis to enroll their camps. However, everything is not lost for Obama/Hillary and Israel, if they can take a deep breath and device a long term solution for Gaza's 4 million human beings who are living worst human lives under iron fist occupation and of course million of Israelis who have to hear false rocket sirens day and nights and wear guns on their body even during sleeping.The painful inhumane conditions in the 21st century is unacceptable and must be ended soon.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • Maddy

      Because this sh!t has been going on since before they were born? Shut yp.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • hoser

      Obama and Hillary can solve our problems how can they solve theirs

      November 20, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  13. Dump hinduism, illegality of Evolution, way of hindu's, deniers of truth absolute GOD, sons of LANGOOR, SELF CENTERED

    it smells bad here in Gaza, goons, from Hindu Israeli, illegality called "Operation Pillar of Hindu Cloud", secular s, denier of truth absolute 360* Thin Allah,

    November 20, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  14. ProperVillain

    Israeli government = just another group of zealots wrapping mayhem in a cloak of religion and "god".

    November 20, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  15. Tom m

    ... God warns, 'Israel is His'...'Allah' and his vast armies keep trying to prove Him wrong

    The 'God of Israel' and the Bible . . . or . . . 'Allah' and the Koran . . . The Bible Warns One Is True . . . and One Is False

    The coming Battle of Armageddon ('Hill of Megiddo') . . . Armageddon lies right in the center of Isreal

    "I (God) will bless those who bless you (Israel) and will curse those who curse you". . . (Genesis 12:3)

    November 20, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • ProperVillain

      That's in the old testament. If you are going to follow that follow everything else. Like stoning disobedient kids. Seriously, think for yourself. Israel is just as bad as Hamas sometimes.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • Akhmed

      Won't be long now till Russia leads the Islamic Nations into Israel and get their butt's kicked. Ezekiel is amazing!

      November 20, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • Maddy

      ABACAB Genisis 101

      November 20, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • aizen

      ignorant rants from a religious lunatic....im not even christian but i wont take the bible literally...you support israel and what blessings have you got? there is no such thing as god's chosen people and if there is then you aint part of it cus u r american and not jew..make your own god.

      November 20, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
  16. UtahProf

    The US has prolonged this fight long enough and it is time to just step back and let the chips fall where they may – Darwin will sort this out.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  17. DFWdad

    Most Israelis are atheist and/or cultural Jews. Reading anything religious or mystical into the name of the campaign is silly. It is just an historical reference to them.

    And futility of the fundamentalists attacking Israel? They are taught that it is good to die a martyr in the process of trying to wipe Israel out. (You do not have to actually succeed.) Well, actually you do succeed if you martyred, because you just inspired the next guy to try too. That is what is so maddening about this conflict.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  18. Akhmed

    You think things are bad in the Middle East now, wait till Israel takes back it's holiest site, The Temple Mount, removes the Muslim Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa abominations, purify the area and rebuild their temple....

    November 20, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • lapperderlaggardo

      Oh, you mean WW3? yeah, that will be pretty bad.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  19. Sree

    Who cares, there are little kids involved, morons.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • DFWdad

      I agree. Its sad that the little kids who are too young to be taught to hate, are being killed.

      However, if Israel was really going after civilians, they would just firebomb all Gaza and be done with it, like Dresden and the Coventry Blitz in WWII.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  20. Antwoine

    It is weird that every time man interprets the will of GOD... some body of another political party, religion, skin color has to die. Bottom line... it’s not religion... but mans interpretation of religion that gets people killed.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • James

      You obviously have never read the bible. Some people wanna have an opinion without any study and know no more than a hill of beans lol!

      November 20, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • Rajan

      When a man believes that his imaginary boss (God) is not free from wills & desires, he has to doo all that he can to fulfill the desires of his boss. Untill that mission has been completed, his boss is unaccomplished.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • DFWdad

      I agree with you. That's what happens when a person or a group get's hold of some 'revelation' and sees themselves as superior, and does not follow one of the two great commandments, 'Love your neighbor as yourself'. Really there is only one who is good/exceptional.

      November 20, 2012 at 3:18 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.