Israel’s current operation in Gaza has a Hebrew name and an English name, and something has been lost in the translation. While “Tzuk Eitan” appears to resonate with Hebrew speakers, “Protective Edge,” the IDF’s official English translation, doesn’t sound quite right to the ears of English-speaking Israelis.
“It’s another one of the strong code names that the IDF gives its operations, like ‘Amud Anan’ [Pillar of Defense] and ‘Oferet Yetztuka’ [Cast Lead],” offered Moria Holtz, an Israeli-born resident of Ma’aleh Adumim who works at a private Hebrew-teaching institute in Jerusalem.
Yagil Levy, a professor in the department of sociology, political science and communication at the Open University of Israel, also immediately perceived the meaning of “Tzuk Eitan,” which translates literally as “Firm Cliff” or “Resolute Cliff” (the IDF’s official Arabic translation). “The operation’s name signals the power, commitment and resilience of the Israeli people,” he said.
The English translation departs from the Hebrew and takes on a more defensive spin. “The name of this operation ["Protective Edge"] was modified in English to give it a more defensive connotation,” Israeli military spokesman for Arab Media Avichay Adraee told the Turkish Anadolu Agency.
“What does ‘Protective Edge’ even mean?” asked TOI blogger and Tel Aviv resident Benji Lovitt. Lovitt, a professional comedian who immigrated to Israel from Texas, immediately began cracking jokes about the operation’s name on Facebook. Among them were ones about razors and condoms. Edge, for instance, is the brand name of a shaving gel.
“Advertising is so sleek in the US that these kinds of associations are natural for Americans. Your mind just naturally goes there,” Lovitt explained.
All joking aside, Lovitt wonders why the IDF would use an English translation that may not play out well in the war that will be fought on the media and social media fronts.
“I had no trouble understanding the names of some of Israel’s previous operations, because they were familiar biblical phrases like ‘Grapes of Wrath,’” noted Karen Brunwasser, who works for the Jerusalem Season of Culture.
Brunwasser doesn’t find “Protective Edge” ridiculous, but rather vague and a somewhat confusing.
“Do they mean ‘edge’ as in cliff, or do they mean ‘edge’ as in having an advantage?” she wondered.
Even sociologist Levy, the native Hebrew speaker, has concerns that the operation’s name could be taken by English speakers to be not about strength, but instead about danger. “An edge is something you can fall off of,” he said. “You can stretch your capabilities to the edge, which is not a good thing.”
Levy surmises that “Tzuk Eitan” was generated from a bank of names in the military’s computer system. “Then the officers select the most suitable name from the computer’s suggestions. They choose something that corresponds to the spirit and purpose of the operation.”
‘We can’t elaborate on the process of the current operation’s naming or of its translation’
He wonders whether the IDF has native English-speaking professional translators and copy editors working on the English translations.
The IDF Spokesman’s office was unwilling to tell The Times of Israel whether the military does or does not engage people with such skills.
“We can’t elaborate on the process of the current operation’s naming or of its translation,” it said.
As awkward as “Protective Edge” may sound to many English speakers, it will nonetheless enter their consciousness whether they like it or not.
“Here in Israel the operations come so regularly that it is hard to keep them straight,” said Brunwasser. “I may not completely understand what all their names mean, but they at least help me remember what happened when.”