Center for Strategic Communication

[ By Charles Cameron — thanks to Gershom Gorenberg for clarifying this for me ]

Dalia Hatuqa, in a Foreign Policy piece titled Am I My Brother’s Keeper? and subtitled How the disappearance of three Israeli boys in the West Bank is upending Palestinian politics, wrote:

Since June 12, the Israeli army has killed at least four Palestinians and arrested more than 470 others in an operation dubbed Brother’s Keeper.

I was interested: Am I my brother’s keeper? is the question Cain asks about Abel in Genesis 4, after they have both offered sacrifices to God, and God had been pleased with Abel’s, and not so much with Cain’s:

And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper? And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.

This is the foundational text for murder in general, and fratricide in particular, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and also a key text for the notion of sacrifice, also central to both traditions. I don’t want to “read” it with twenty-first century Anglo-American eyes, and I’m no rabbinic scholar, so I won’t attempt to explain the whole narrative, but simply draw your attention to the fact that the name of the Israeli operation in that FP piece is Brother’s Keeper, which would make it a clear reference to Cain and Abel.


Meanwhile, Matt Levitt asked in a tweet:

— to which I responded, not realizing it was a different op he was talking about, “Brother’s Keeper”. The op in Matt’s question, which I’d have known if I’d followed the link he offered – to his own article Kidnapped Israeli Teens Compel Scrutiny of Hamas’s International Finances in the New Republic – was named Biur Hametz, and although intensified by the kidnappings, had nothing to do with Cain and Abel, being as Matt had suggested, a Pesach reference:

In fact, Israel has been quietly targeting Hamas’s financial infrastructure for some time now as part of Operation Biur Hametz. (The name refers to the pre-Passover custom of burning any leftover bread before the onset of the holiday.) Much of Israel’s focus the past few months has been on Hamas’s financing from abroad, but the kidnappings have thrust this campaign into full throttle.


In any case, I wondered how the Israeli forces interpreted the name of the exercise, which I still thought of as Brother’s Keeper, and asked my old colleague from the Center for Millennial Studies, Gershom Gorenberg:

When Israel names op “Brother’s Keeper” – Israel keeper of “brother” Palestine, or some1 unnamed keeper of 3 Israeli brothers?

Gershom very kindly corrected me:

Original is “Return, brothers” in imperative. Still no Cain/Abel reference.


So there you have it. We can forget Cain and Abel and Brother’s Keeper –the operation is named Return, brothers, or in Hebrew, Shuvu Ahim.

And every decent maze has its blind alleys!