Hanukkah – The Maccabee Intifada

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The following article below was published as a Facebook Note and is being republished here with the author’s approval: 

By Benjamin Dictor
December 8, 2012

Rethinking Hanukkah

judeaThe modern retelling of the story of Hanukkah is similar to that of most Jewish holidays.  The storyboard adopts the exhausted themes of victim/victor and the relentless and indiscriminate persecution of the Jews. The story is fairly one-dimensional:

“King Antiochus IV sought to obliterate the practice of Judaism in the Kingdom of Judea.  After a military invasion, Judea was occupied until the Maccabees rose up and defeated the occupying force, restoring Judaism to the Kingdom.”

As materialists we must question this myopic focus on the suppression of religion as the primary point of conflict.

Today, the story is told in an attempt to further the founder’s myth in support of a Jewish Theocratic State while the underlying story of the struggle for national self-determination is often glossed over and forgotten.

Hanukkah is not simply about the struggle of the Jews, but rather, it is the story of the struggle for national self-determination of the people of Judea  —- as well as their uprising and resistance against occupation and imperialism.

In short, Hanukkah is the celebration of the Intifada of the Maccabees.

Hellenism and the Gusanos of Judea 

Like many of the devastating military conflicts presently unfolding in the world, the Maccabean Intifada began as a civil conflict that was ultimately exploited by foreign powers in furtherance of their imperialist objectives. Just as we have seen in recent years, these foreign invaders were welcomed by many gusano Judeans who requested the military support of imperialist powers to help them maintain their opportunist grasp on power in the kingdom.

The roots of the Maccabean Intifada began as a conflict between Jews that had begun to reform their traditions as a result of the Hellenistic influence (cultural imperialism) in the region and those Jews who sought to maintain their national and religious identity.

In approximately 200 BCE, the Kingdom of Judea came under the control of the Hellenist Seleucid Empire (Syria).   Judea was still a somewhat independent kingdom and its people were allowed to maintain their customs and religion.

During that period, Hellenism was used much like the West uses its own cultural imperialism today in support of its foreign conquests.  The people of Judea were not blind to this and saw that the imposition of Hellenist customs, values and religion were a direct attempt to undermine the political independence of Judea.

Some historians have focused on the wealth disparity between rural peasants in Judea and those Jews who lived in Jerusalem.  The rural Jews favored continued independence and self-determination while the bourgeois Jews of the city of Jerusalem were easily Hellenized and adopted the cultural identity of their would-be occupiers.  (See, Tcherikover, Victor Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews, New York: Atheneum, 1975).  This tension led to periodic uprisings and ongoing hostility between those Jews who sought to maintain independence and those who favored Hellenism.

Prior to Syrian military invasion, Judea enjoyed considerable independence. However, the High Priest of Jerusalem, like most administrators or governors of colonized territories, served at the pleasure of the Seleucid King.

In the years leading up to the Maccabean Intifada, Jews in favor of self-determination made several attempts to oust these hand-picked High Priests and restore partisans to the leadership of Judea.  The Seleucid military invasion of Judea was, in fact, precipitated by these ongoing conflicts over the position of High Priest of Jerusalem.

It was the Jewish Hellenistic High Priest Menelaus who ultimately requested that Seleucid King Antiochas IV send troops into Judea to quash the pro-independence resistance. Just as we have seen in Libya and Syria, it was the collaborators in Judea — Jews themselves — that demanded an invasion of their homeland to suppress their countrymen insisting on self-determination.

With the welcome mat laid out by the collaborators in Jerusalem, Antiochus IV sent Apollonius with an occupying army to Judea to put down the resistance and restore the collaborator Menelaus to the position of High Priest.

The Maccabean Intifada

Around 168 BCE, after the occupation of Judea had begun, Antiochus began to slowly strip Judea of its independence — politically and religiously. The occupying Syrian army built fortresses and amassed a military presence in Judea. Antiochus issued edicts restricting religious practices and limiting civil rights of the Judean people.  The resistance against the occupation came in the form of an army of Jews known as the Maccabees (“Hammers”) — essentially the Hamas of their time.  The Maccabees fought the occupying Syrian army for seven years, relying heavily on guerilla tactics to defeat the overwhelming force of the Syrian army.

A series of military defeats and domestics disputes in Syria ultimately led to the victory of the Maccabees, the retreat of the imperialist Syrian occupiers, and the restoration of the independence of the Kingdom of Judea.

A New Hanukkah 

This year, I propose that we celebrate Hanukkah as a holiday that commemorates the true story of resistance against occupation and imperialism.  Rather than allowing it to be used to promote the ongoing occupation of Palestine, let us tell the story of Hanukkah to remind ourselves of our obligation, as Jews, to fight for all oppressed people of the world.

Our Jewish values implore us to recognize that imperialism must be opposed in all its forms.  In that spirit, I submit that, this year, we light the menorah in commemoration of those who struggle against oppression and imperialism:

1st Candle –  For The People of Palestine for their continued resistance against occupation.

2nd Candle –  For The People of Cuba for over half a century of resistance against imperialism, attempted invasions and an illegal blockade.

3rd Candle –  For The People of Syria who have been invaded by a massive foreign military force supported by the imperialist west, but continue to struggle against it.

4th Candle — For The People of Vietnam who, like the Maccabees, successfully fought off a massive military with guerilla tactics.

5th Candle –  For The People of Libya, particularly Bani Walid, who continue to resist occupation and invasion.

6th Candle – For The People of Venezuela who have successfully thwarted attempts by imperialists to overthrow their democratically elected government.

7th Candle – For The People of Bahrain who have continued to oppose Saudi and U.S. imperialism.

8th Candle —  For all Oppressed People of the World.

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