Many Jewish people this week are celebrating the 8-day festival of Hanukkah that commemorates the military victory of the Maccabees, a small group of Jewish rebels that defeated the oppressive Syrian overlords of ancient Palestine.
According to tradition, after the temple was liberated, the one-day supply of oil used to light the perpetual flame lasted for eight days.
Jews of faith celebrate this miracle by lighting candles placed on a Menorah or ‘Hanukkia’ (a nine – branched candelabrum) at sundown during each of the eight days. Though there are different interpretations of what Hanukkah means, for many it is the time to remember the victory of a people who fought a war of national liberation against a powerful occupying power.
So today, as Israelis are illegally occupying Palestine, many see the struggle for Palestinian liberation comparable to the ancient struggle for Jewish liberation.
The report and images below of a 2006 action that took place on the last day of Hanukkah are courtesy of the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom (“the peace bloc”), self-described as ‘the hard-core of the Israeli peace movement’ founded in 1993 by Israeli journalist, writer and former politician Uri Avnery.
Celebrating Hanukkah with today’s Maccabees
The soldiers and settlers who looked on from a distance did not believe their eyes: Some seventy Israeli peace activists, members of Gush Shalom and sympathizers together with Palestinians among them a lot of children, lighted the candles of a huge Hanukkia at the Palestinian ‘outpost’ put up by the villagers of Bil’in on their land, only a hundred yards from the houses of the Modi’in Illit settlement.
The action took place on the eighth evening of Hanukkah, the first day of 2006 – as an expression of solidarity with the Bil’in struggle as well as a message to Israelis.
“Perhaps it seems strange that we light the candles of a Jewish holiday at this place” Uri Avnery said, “but we are standing here on the land of the Maccabees. It is here that they were born and here they started their revolt.”
The rebellion of the Maccabees is not only a Jewish symbol, long ago it has become a world-wide symbol of the struggle against oppression, occupation and injustice. The people of Bil’in are the Maccabees of these days, and the occupation is Antiochus (Antiochus Epiphanes was the Greek king of Syria, against whose tyrannical rule the Maccabees rebelled 2174 years ago).
The Hanukkia, more than two meters high, was constructed on the spot from irrigation pipes, on an idea of kibbutznik Teddy Katz, who brought the pipes with him. Some days ago the villagers of Bil’in have set up an ‘outpost’ on their land that lies between the ‘separation fence’ and the settlement – a large area that has been effectively cut off from the village by the Wall, in order to build their new neighborhoods of Modi’in Illit, which is already a huge settlement.
The settlers, all Haredim (orthodox Jews), have been put there by real estate speculators, some of them Canadian companies, who have earned many millions by selling the stolen land.
Muhammad Khatib of the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall, described to the Israeli activists how the outpost – a brick structure – was set up in one single night:
First we put up here a trailer; after 36 hours the Civil Administration (CA) came and took it away. We collected money for a second one – thanks also to Gush Shalom for helping out. It was a rainy day and the army only noticed the new one in the evening; the CA officer came, but he didn’t have the right form.
He told us: This will not help you long; I will return in the morning. We asked, why are you so hot about our one trailer? What about the 750 houses the settlers are building over there without permit, illegal even according to your own law? He said: well, with fixed structures the procedure is more complicated…
That gave us the idea, but we had only a few hours. We did it, Palestinians, Israelis and internationals and, yes, also one sympathetic settler living in Modi’in working through the whole night: Bringing over the building materials, struggling through a lot of rain and mud; the window panes we got from a Bil’in resident who let us remove them from his home.
Imagine the face of the CA officer at eight in the morning…
It was decided to call the place ‘Center of Joint Struggle’. And every night, some Bil’iners, accompanied by Israelis as well as internationals, sleep in the structure to guard it.
After these inspiring words, eight of the visitors lighted the ‘candles’ – actually torches – each one making a short statement:
“I light this torch for the fighters against occupation and oppression, in the spirit of the Maccabees, who were the sons of this soil!”
“I light this candle against injustice and discrimination, in the spirit of the best spiritual leaders of Judaism throughout the ages!”
“I light this candle for human dignity and human rights!”
“I light this candle against the settlers who take by force possession of the land that belongs to others, contrary to the Jewish values they profess to honor!”
“I light this candle in honor of the State of Israel within the Green Line, a state of liberty and justice!”
“I light this candle against the hooligans who cut down Palestinian trees and steal the olives, and who last year destroyed 5000 Palestinian homes, who besmirch the honor of Israel.”
“I light this candle for peace between the two peoples, sons of this country!”
“I light this candle for the love of human beings, wherever they are!”
A peaceful and happy Hanukkah to all our Jewish visitors!