World War One was called “the War to End All Wars” as it was happening; that didn’t age well. World War Two was simply “the War” or the “European War,” both of which are entirely undescriptive. And there are a million different wars named after the amount of time they were fought: the Hundred Years’ War, the Seven Years’ War, etc. At the time, did people refer to the present war by how long it had been going on? Did it start out as just the war, then become the two years’ war, the three years’ war and so on?
The same words are used repetitively to talk about Israel right now, as though each article’s phrasings are cut from the same limited dictionary.
Brutal. Hamas gunmen/assailants (rarely terrorists). Massacre. The most Jews dead in one day since the Holocaust. Israeli occupation. Right to self defense. 2.3 million people under siege. Calls for moderation on both sides. Men, women and children. By land, sea and air. Stands in solidarity with. Strongly condemns. Praises. Rockets. If you stay silent when Hamas attacks Israel, stay silent when Israel defends itself. Missiles. Barbaric. Airstrikes. Dead Palestinian children. Hamas builds bases under hospitals. Hostages. War.
What do we call a tragedy as it happens, death as it occurs? What will we call what began on October 7, 2023, the bloodiest day in Israeli history? Below, some possible candidates:
The Shemini Atzeret War/The War of Shemini Atzeret/The Simchat Torah War
The war began early Saturday morning, which also happened to be Shemini Atzeret, the final day of Sukkot and the dividing line, at least religiously, between the dry and rainy seasons in Israel. Shemini Atzeret occurs the day before Simchat Torah, where Jews celebrate the end of the yearly cycle of reading the five books of the Torah and the beginning of a new repetition. Together, the two days make up the final of the high holidays.
The Second Yom Kippur War
The startling shift from synagogue to service on October 7, as Hamas attacked and the Israeli government declared war, is reminiscent of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, where an Egyptian-Syrian coalition launched a surprise attack against Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. The 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War on October 6 ominously coincided with the beginning of this new conflict, prompting immediate comparisons.
One glaring similarity sticks out: the surprise nature of both attacks. After the Yom Kippur War, Prime Minister Golda Meir appeared before a special commission investigating the intelligence failure which allowed it, and was forced to resign soon after.
What could have happened now? Perhaps a sense of overconfidence regarding border security in Gaza and Israeli intelligence prowess. Maybe an underestimation of Hamas’ strength, a preoccupation by Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s government with domestic strife over judicial reform or an increased attention on establishing formal relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Who knows, yet as soon as the war ends or quiets down enough for people to start fervently asking questions, it is reasonable to expect the same consequences for Bibi as Golda faced.
The Great Gaza War/The Great Hamas War
This is the fifth war/operation in Gaza since 2008, although there has been near-continuous conflict since Israel’s unilateral withdrawal in 2005 and before with the First and Second Intifadas (1987-93; 2000-5), or Arab uprisings. Hamas, a US and EU designated terrorist group, has controlled the territory since being elected into office in early 2006.
Israel and Hamas have fought wars in 2008, 2012, 2014 and most recently until now, 2021. Israel launched ground invasions of Gaza in 2008 and 2014, while 2012 and 2021 were marked mostly by exchanges of fire.
Hamas launches missiles from inside the heavily-populated and extremely dense Gaza Strip, locating weapons and bases in urban areas under the theory that Israel will not attack for fear of killing Palestinian civilians. This is not the case, with Israel usually launching targeted airstrikes in retaliation, leading to many Palestinians dead.
In all four wars up to this point, Israel has not lost more than a few dozen citizens in each, yet at the time of writing, over 900 Israelis have been killed, with over 100 kidnapped. The IDF will undoubtedly invade; the only question being who and what will remain in Gaza afterwards.
The Third Intifada
This name is far more speculative. Over the past two years, relations between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and Israel have continued to degrade. Mohammad Deif, head of Hamas’ military wing, has already called on Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank to “expel the occupiers and demolish the walls,” beginning a Third Intifada against Israel.
Although there have been several minor clashes in the West Bank since Hamas’ attack, it is unknown whether they will evolve into something more substantial.
The name of anything, whether it be a particular event, an era or a war like the one Israel faces now, only comes about over time as the subject’s defining attributes become clear.
Whatever it will be called, the current war with Gaza should be noted for this: death, destruction, shock, horror and randomness. It hasn’t just been Israelis — foreigners from the United States, France, Thailand and more have been murdered. These people weren’t killed because they were religious, Zionist, Jewish or even Israeli. All Hamas cared about was that they had a reason to be in Israel. That was enough for them to die.
In difficult times, the Jewish people read from the book of Tehillim, or Psalms. As it says in Psalm 27:
“The LORD is my light and my help; whom should I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life, whom should I dread?”
הֹוָ֤ה ׀ אוֹרִ֣י וְ֭יִשְׁעִי מִמִּ֣י אִירָ֑א יְהֹוָ֥ה מָעוֹז־חַ֝יַּ֗י מִמִּ֥י אֶפְחָֽד
And in the prayer for the IDF (Israeli Defense Force):
“For it is your God יהוה who marches with you to do battle for you against your enemy, to bring you victory.”
כִּ֚י יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֔ם הַהֹלֵ֖ךְ עִמָּכֶ֑ם לְהִלָּחֵ֥ם לָכֶ֛ם עִם־אֹיְבֵיכֶ֖ם לְהוֹשִׁ֥יעַ אֶתְכֶֽם