Religious right wing opponents of the North Gaza Project often argue that Palestinians are the modern-day incarnation of Amalek. They are our forever enemies and thus a harsh war is the only reasonable response to them. It is almost a religiously mandated conflict.

However, The command to ‘erase the memory of Amalek’ can be read in a very different way.

In the time of Abram (Abraham), there was a major war between four and five kings. It was fundamentally an economic war. The leader of the four kings was Kedarla’omer , whose name means ‘encircles the grain.’ An omer is specifically the amount of food an individual needs to live for one day. The implication is that Kedarla’omer controlled and constrained the grain supply to maximize revenues. (ancient monopolies weren’t unheard of, Thales of Miletus cornered the olive press market in the 6th century BCE).

S’dom and Amora (‘amora’ comes from that same root, implying grain production) rebelled. Essentially, they dropped out of the cartel. The response was that Kedarla’omer went to war with them. I believe they were using fertilizers from the Dead Sea (which is today a major global fertilizer supplier) in order to compete with Kedarla’omer in a major way.

While moving his armies to S’dom and Amora, Kedarla’omer took the opportunity to deal with smaller competitors who were outside his control. One of these, whose fields were burnt, was Amalek.

Avraham (then Avram) watched all of this unfold. But Avraham did nothing to help. Then Lot, Abraham’s nephew, was captured. Abraham then attacked and defeated Kedarla’omer with a very small team of his closest allies. It was clear, or so it would seem, that Avraham could have interceded earlier. I believe Avraham feared he made the wrong decision, leading G-d to tell him: “Fear not, Abram, I am thy shield, thy reward shall be exceeding great.”

For their part, Amalek never forgave Abraham’s people for not helping when Kedarla’omer attacked them. Hundreds of years later, – even after their identity had essentially been colonized by the descendent of Esav – they retained their cultural anger to such a degree that it drove them to attack the people as they emerged from Egypt. As an aside, every other ‘side nation’ attacked by Amalek ended up fighting the nascent Jewish people in the book of Bamidbar (Numbers).

This remarkable grudge-bearing is why I believe that when the Torah talks about ‘erasing the memory of Amalek’ it isn’t talking about others’ memory of Amalek. Nobody would know who Amalek was if we didn’t keep reminding ourselves to eliminate them. No our goal is not to remove others’ memory of Amalek, it is to remove Amalek’s memory of their own carried grudges and hatred.

The ‘memory of Amalek’ is just this. It might originate as a ‘male’ reproductive memory. But then, once Amalek as a nation vanishes, it becomes the cultural memory that takes a slight, a mistake or an attack and never lets it go. This is the recipe for endless national feud. The concept of the ‘memory of Amalek’ does not require any people of Amalek. It just requires those who interpret situations in the worst possible way and then won’t let go of their need for revenge. Shia anger over the death of Ali is ‘the memory of Amalek’ while radical Muslims will chant ‘remember Khaybar’ (Mohammed’s slaughter of Jews in 628) because they imagine we share their kind of memory.

The Jewish reality is very different. We may have a lot of flaws, but we are very very good at moving on. G-d commands the Jewish people to forgive the Egyptians a single generation after leaving slavery. Today, very few Jews hate Germans – despite the Holocaust/Shoah. Almost nobody even knows what Khaybar was.

Part of our vision of the Divine path is that G-d forgives iniquity after three or four generations, but preserves kindness for thousands. We are meant to imitate that.

Defeating the ‘memory of Amalek’ can be about total war. You could exterminate the actual nation of Amalek. In ancient times, that may have been practical. But Amalek is more about transmitting certain ideas than any genetic reality. The Jewish King Shaul allows the Amalekite king Agag to live just one night. Only a single generation later, an entirely new nation of Amalek exists. It is a nation of borne grudges and bitterness.

In modern times, it is entirely impractical to eliminate a nation of Amalek. There are not only moral challenges, but practical ones. First and foremost, who is Amalek? If you define Amalek as those who are driven to an irrational hatred of Jews, then they number in the hundreds of millions or even billions.

‘Erasing Amalek’ is not possible – or even desirable.

What is desirable is erasing the ‘memory of Amalek.’ It is helping to reform and reshape societies so that they can forgive past sins and celebrates past kindnesses. Tremendous progress has been made in erasing the ‘memory of Amalek’ in the last century. In most of the world, seemingly unending ethnic conflicts have been tamped down. French and Germans may crack jokes about one another, but they aren’t locked in an unending conflict.

The Muslim world remains a standout carrier of this form of memory. But even the Muslim world can be reformed.

16th century Europe saw the Thirty Years War, which killed 30% of the continent’s population. An observer could be forgiven for imagining that no peace was possible because religious faith demanded war. Then, Amsterdam established the idea of toleration. Amsterdam’s example, and its success, was one of the seeds that ended up transforming both Catholic and Protestant religion.

Religions develop. Judaism doesn’t execute people for failing to observe Shabbat. Our definition of warfare is far more limited than that described in the Torah. We don’t keep slaves. Christianity abandoned religious war and much of American Christianity has learned to embrace Israel and recognize a place for Jews in their messianic visions. Today we see new forms of Islam developing in the UAE , Saudi Arabia and even Indonesia. These are not entirely new branches of the religion, but step-by-step evolutions of the most common form of Islam – Sunni Islam.

When this change happens, it tends to be driven by small places. The inertia of large nations is simply too great. Boston transformed modern Christianity. Amsterdam introduced toleration. The UAE is changing Islam. And, outside the sphere of religion, Hong Kong revolutionized the economy of China, West Berlin helped undermine the Soviet Union, Rwanda is showing how ethnic strife can be suppressed and Singapore is redefining how three very different cultures (Chinese, Indian and Islamic) can live together.

The North Gaza Project could be the next small state to help redefine the future in political, economic and even religious terms.

There is certainly no guarantee that the North Gaza Project will work. Nonetheless, I believe the NGP has greatest long-term chance of ‘erasing the memory of Amalek’ and bringing a new dawn to our region.