Siege, The Eternally Flawed Instrument Of War
Over the past week, Gaza has been officially under siege, even if the roots have long been planted in the confined territory. Others may say that Israel itself has long felt under siege, surrounded by hostile nations. It's worth tracing the origins of this policy of war that targets entire populations, from Troy in ancient Greece to Leningrad in World War II.
Siege. The dictionary definition seems straightforward enough: a city, a castle, a structure fortified by walls, towers, bunkers, surrounded on all sides by the enemy who wants to assault it or force its surrender through hunger and desperation.
Gaza, as we speak, is an entire territory under siege, much like the cities of Leningrad by the Germans during World War II, or Paris during the Commune in the 19th century. The narrow strip of coastal land, 42 kilometers (26 miles) long, and 8 kilometers (4.9 miles) wide has long been lamented as an enormous 'open prison' — the siege imposed by Israeli authorities has turned it into a fortress, a bunker hosting more than two million people.
A siege, like any human endeavor, follows precise rules. It's a concerted operation, meticulously planned and executed with bureaucratic precision. The siege is stable, no longer a matter of sporadic attacks; it's a reality both more dreadful and simpler than one could imagine.
in Gaza, lives are being lived in basements, without light, amid makeshift sleeping arrangements, with carefully rationed supplies dwindling before people's eyes. Water no longer flows from the taps, so there's a furtive pilgrimage with buckets and jugs to reach the wells.
Young people risk going out on the streets between one bombardment and another to gather and convey news: of massacres, victories, miraculous survivals.
Citizens of Leningrad leaving their houses destroyed by German bombing.
Besieged and besieger
In reality, the Palestinians have been besieged for decades, but the nature of this new siege is on another order of magnitude: total, relentless, perhaps final.
The two actors, in fact, have confused their roles.
So when it arrives, it's not just beginning; it's no longer a hypothesis, a maybe, and an uncertainty, but a certain truth like life and death. There is only one unit of time measurement, one dimension: the siege.
But how did we get here? The two actors, in fact, have confused their roles. What kind of siege is it when the Wall was built not by those defending (the Palestinians) but by those attacking (the Israelis)? A Wall they must now breach, at great risk, to proceed with a ground invasion coming with the objective to annihilate Hamas.
Israel under another siege
One of the ancient rules of siege warfare mandated never to allow the besieged population — even the unarmed — to leave the city. Today, it would be called the denial of a "humanitarian corridor." Because the mouths that need to be fed, the cries, tears, and despair all erode the will to fight of even the purest fanatics. An additional weapon within the very walls.
But has the Jewish state itself not been a besieged city ever since its birth, surrounded as it was by Arab regimes that called for its destruction? With victorious wars, it had recently begun to delude itself into thinking it had loosened that siege. But today, after the bloody Saturday of Hamas, it again sees multiple fronts around it from which old and new enemies might again seek to purify the original sin of its existence.
A siege is a reality that follows a set of internal and external rules. The siege is in Gaza, clearly recognizable in the ruins, in the makeshift shelters. Acknowledging this fact, this reality, now gives substance and meaning to life between the rubble.
What has begun will end once its time is complete, and then everything will be different: the task is simply to survive until that moment. It's not a coincidence that the history of wars begins with a siege, the most famous and unforgettable one: the siege of Troy. In such a space, war gains its physical monumentality, even more than in a battle. It takes on sacrificial meaning, becoming complete because those in command send their troops not to organized combat but to certain death.
Water being pumped into Gaza on Friday
Mohammed Talatene/dpa via ZUMA
But sieges also shape spirits. That's why Machiavelli wisely suggested that the perfect siege is a short one. Time passing in vain depresses the besiegers. On the other side, it could turn even the lukewarm and indifferent into fanatics willing to fight to the death.
Hunger and bombs will seal Hamas' total control over two million besieged individuals, driving them to take the step they've so far refused – to cross the line that separates them from a reality where death, not life, is the primary certainty.
It's the inner landscape of a siege that gradually turns it into myth
The jihadists who attacked Israel last Saturday will no longer be the culprits of yet another tragedy that has befallen the defenseless Palestinians, but merely men who, with every means at their disposal, fought to change their destiny.
Under the bombs, with the enemy beyond their Wall, hungry and without medicine in that tangle of rubble and smoke that was once their home, every event becomes indelible. How could they not think of the children killed, the rockets that carry fear and death, the places where heroes fell.
It's the inner landscape of a siege that gradually turns it into myth, and ultimately becomes a weapon for those who were forced to live under it.
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