Comment: An aptly named war of the 'straits'

flag hizbullah border298 (photo credit: AP [file])
flag hizbullah border298
(photo credit: AP [file])
For years now, experts have called the differences between the Muslim and Western worlds a clash of civilizations. On Thursday, that line of thought was reflected by Defense Minister Amir Peretz's announcement that the current conflict between Israel and the Hizbullah would be recorded in history as Milhemet Bein Hameitzarim (literally, The War within the Straits, or perhaps colloquially, the dire straits war), a name packed with religious significance. The Jewish nation is currently in a period called Bein Hameitzarim, which began on the 17th of the Hebrew month of Tamuz and ends on the ninth of Av, one of Judaism's official days of mourning. These three weeks pack some of the most depressing incidents in Jewish history. First and foremost, this period commemorates the clash of cultures and religions that led to the Jewish peoples' defeat, first at the hands of the Babylonians, and 600 years later, by the Romans. According to Jewish tradition, both conquests took place on the ninth of Av. The tragedies that resulted from the Roman conquest had a decidedly religious nature. The Roman siege on Jerusalem stopped the daily sacrifice in the Temple; Apastamus, a Roman general, openly burned a Torah scroll, and an idol was placed inside the Temple. Just decades after the destruction of the Temple, the Romans brutally crushed a rebellion led by Bar Kochba, who was thought to be the Messiah who would usher in a new spiritual era. Much later in history, another horrible incident with strong religious connotations happened on the ninth of Av: The Catholic Church's Spanish Inquisition issued its expulsion decree against the Jews. The name chosen for the current conflict between Israel and Hizbullah reflects the Israeli sense that this is not just a fight over disputed territory, as Hizbullah claims, but is a clash of civilizations, one that reflects the depths of the conflict between the West and radical Islam. In analyzing a letter Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wrote to US President George W. Bush in May, columnist Amir Taheri wrote in these pages that the Islamic Republic of Iran felt it was its duty to provoke a "clash of civilizations" to hasten the return of a hidden imam who represented the demand that humanity in its entirety convert to Islam. The term Bein Hameitzarim comes from the scroll of Lamentations, which is traditionally read on the ninth of Av in the evening. "She dwells among the nations. She finds no rest. All her persecutors overtook her between the straits," says the prophet Jeremiah, a reference that could apply to the straits in which northern Israel finds itself.