It is Hanukka, the festival of lights, when Jews around the world gather together each night and celebrate the miracles performed for our ancestors two millennia ago during the great Hasmonean revolt against the Seleucid tyrant Antiochus.
We are all familiar with the outlines of the story, of how a band of Jewish freedom-fighters known as the Maccabees restored our national and religious sovereignty. Guided by the hand of divine providence, Mattathias the high priest and his courageous sons defeated the Syrian-Greek occupiers, purified the Temple in Jerusalem and established a dynasty that lasted for 103 years.
But that is not all the Maccabees succeeded in accomplishing. There is another, lesser-known feat to their credit, one that most of us are probably oblivious to, but which is nonetheless worth recalling now, especially in light of the ongoing Hamas attacks on the Negev. Believe it or not, but the Maccabees liberated Gaza, subdued its hostile population and settled the area with Jews, reincorporating it into the ancient state of Israel.
Now there's a historical lesson which we desperately need to learn.
IN THE year 145 BCE, some two decades after the events we commemorate on Hanukka, the Hasmonean king, Jonathan, brother of Judah the Maccabee, attacked the area and pacified it, forcing Gaza's residents to sue for peace. The story is right there in the First Book of Maccabees (11:62).
Subsequently, however, Gaza continued to vex the Jews of Israel, leading Simon the Maccabee, who succeeded Jonathan two years later, to continue what his brother had begun.
"In those days, Simon camped against Gaza and besieged it round about," the Book of Maccabees (13:43) tells us, adding, "He made also an engine of war and set it by the city, and battered a certain tower and took it."
Simon's soldiers "that were in the engine" then entered Gaza city, which quickly led the hostile population to beg for peace, appealing to him to "deal not with us according to our wickedness but according to your mercy."
Simon agreed, but not before taking a series of measures to try and ensure that Gaza would never again pose a threat to its neighbors. Among these, he "placed such men there as would keep the law, and made it stronger than it was before," essentially reimposing security on the unruly strip of land.
Simon also sent Jews to settle the area, and he even built himself a home in Gaza, as if to underline the fact that the Jewish people had every intention of remaining.
NOW, MORE than ever, this part of our history should resonate with each and every one of us, as the joy of Hanukka this year is being marred for tens of thousands of our fellow Israelis living in the shadow of Hamas rocket fire from Gaza.
Over the weekend, Palestinian terrorists launched 40 Kassams and mortar shells from Gaza, bringing the total number of such projectiles fired at us since the start of the year to more than 2,900. That is an average of eight rockets per day, every day, since January 1.
This is simply intolerable.
And the threat which it poses to Israel only continues to grow.
On Sunday, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Yuval Diskin told the weekly cabinet meeting that Hamas has increased the range of its arsenal, which can now reach as far as Kiryat Gat, Ashdod and even the outskirts of Beersheba. Does anyone doubt that it will continue to extend its capabilities? Must we wait patiently with our hands folded until Tel Aviv is in the crosshairs?
Every day that passes without action only increases the danger, allowing Hamas to further refine and improve its lethal store of weapons.
Concerted and prolonged military action must be taken now. The time has come for us to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors the Maccabees and to subjugate Gaza once and for all.
We should reassert complete military control over the area, topple the Hamas regime and put its leaders on trial for war crimes.
And while we are at it, let's correct the catastrophic error of the expulsion of Gaza's Jews and rebuild the ruins of Gush Katif. If it was good enough for Simon the Maccabee to build homes there and settle Jews there, there is no reason why we should not do the same.
SUCH MEASURES are long overdue and are generally considered to be inevitable. Indeed, the longer we wait, the more difficult it will be, so we might as well act now. With a lame-duck president in Washington, and mounting uncertainty over how the incoming Obama administration will treat Israel, we have a window of opportunity in the next month to strike a forceful blow against Hamas terror. Allowing this chance to pass us by would be a tragic and fateful mistake.
Come now, you might be thinking, the world will never let us get away with it, even if it is preoccupied with the global financial meltdown. After all, the front page of The New York Times is six columns wide, leaving plenty of room to condemn the Jewish state for standing up to those who wish to destroy it.
Anger, however, is something we can live with. Terrorism, on the other hand, is not.
So let's muster up the courage and fortitude necessary to defend ourselves and vanquish our enemies.
Perhaps, then, we too might just merit to see a Hanukka miracle of our own.