Israeli troops observed the first night of Hanukkah on Thursday night by lighting candles on the battlefield — and, in one case, in the midst of “Palestine Square,” at the heart of Gaza City, where Hamas recently filmed propaganda videos with Israeli hostages.
Hanukkah (or Chanukah), also known as the Festival of Lights, celebrates the liberation of ancient Israel from Syrian-Greek occupation in the 2nd century B.C. The Maccabees, whose under-equipped warriors were vastly outnumbered by Greek troops, nevertheless won a decisive victory. According to tradition, when the Maccabees arrived at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which had been corrupted by pagan worship, they found only enough oil to last for one night — but, miraculously, it burned for eight.
Today, the holiday is observed by lighting a special candelabra, known as a menorah or chanukiyah, for eight nights, increasing the number of candles each night. The theme of the holiday is bringing light to darkness, which is particularly poignant this year.
The first night of Hanukkah happened to fall on December 7, marking two months since the horrific terror attack of October 7, in which Hamas terrorists murdered 1,200 people in Israel in brutal fashion, and took 240 hostages to Gaza, 138 of whom remain.
In a video widely circulated on social media, the commander of an armored division in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is seen speaking to his troops as they raise the Israeli flag and set up a menorah in Palestine Square, where Hamas supporters taunted Israeli hostages upon their capture and even upon their release.
אל”מ בני אהרן, מח”ט 401 pic.twitter.com/M7JASATvb6
— תורת לחימה (@Torat_IDF) December 8, 2023
The commander says:
Today, exactly two months after [the attack], here, in the accursed Palestine Square, the square in which they celebrated when they murdered us, the square where they handed out sweets when they fired rockets at our cities, the square in which they humiliated our hostages, the square that is the center of the city, the center of the regime and the symbol of Hamas, the symbol of Gaza, here, in this evil square, we stand with pride, with heads held high and with strength, to light the first candle of Hanukkah. We will illuminate Gaza City, dark and benighted, with your light, with the light of purity, with the light of goodness, and with the light of hope and peace for our dear State of Israel. … Keep illuminating and banishing the darkness, until victory. … We love you and we are proud of you. To all the State of Israel: Happy holiday!
In another video, shared by the IDF, the commanding officer of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Southern Command, General Yaron Finkelman, is shown reciting the traditional blessings over the candles in Gaza. He also addresses the troops:
This is a long, important and difficult war, and this is a symbolic moment, of lighting the Hanukkah candles. At this time that we are here, in Jabaliya, all of our families are singing and lighting candles, because they trust us, and they are proud of you and your victories, in your masterful fighting. You are … the Maccabees of today … and we will continue forward until victory.
מפקד פיקוד הדרום, אלוף ירון פינקלמן, הדליק היום (ה’) נר ראשון של חג החנוכה עם לוחמי המילואים של חטיבה 551, שנלחמים כעת בג’באליה>> pic.twitter.com/5g96Tqghqv
— צבא ההגנה לישראל (@idfonline) December 7, 2023
On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lit the first candle at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the holiest site in Judaism. On Friday, he laid a wreath at the funeral of Master Sgt. (res.) Gal Meir Eisenkot, 25, the son of War Cabinet minister and former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot.
Netanyahu said, in a statement:
This enemy will not break us up – we will break it up. This enemy will not wipe us out, we will wipe it out. This enemy will not overcome us, we will overcome it. This is being carried out day by day and night by night, and we will do it until the end. I believe with complete faith in the inherent power of this people, the power of life. But this power of life requires us, sometimes, to endure the tribulations of bereavement. Apparently, this is the price of our existence in our land, but we can bear it.
This year we are lighting the first Chanukah candle in the knowledge that this light will never be extinguished. Even if this holiday is diluted with sorrow, may we – knowing this – have a happy holiday. A happy holiday to you.”
Hanukkah is observed through December 15, with the last night falling on Thursday, December 14.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the new biography, Rhoda: ‘Comrade Kadalie, You Are Out of Order’. He is also the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.