From a column in Ha'aretz:

I know two things about the horse, Charles Laughton used to say, and one of them is rather coarse. The first thing we know about the Trojan horse is that it is a sort of digital virus that sneaks into computers and servers of individuals and companies, and creates a breach in the firewalls, allowing data to be passed to those who are supposed to be uninitiated.

But as we all chase the digital Trojan horses, it is worth our while to remember a thing or two about the original, wooden Trojan horse. Oddly enough, none of his hoof-marks are imprinted in Homer's "Iliad," and he is mentioned only briefly in the fourth book of "The Odyssey." He does, however, figure in the second book of Virgil's "Aeneid" (from 19 B.C.E.), which is the source of Laocoon's then-unheeded - but oft-quoted - admonition to "beware of Greeks bearing gifts." And that, interestingly, echoes Proverbs (15:27): "He that hateth gifts shall live."

We can enjoy the story in full in the 12th book of "The Fall of Troy" by Quintus Smyrnaeus (Greek, 4th century C.E., but he was probably quoting previous Greek poets). It was a two-tiered stratagem, devised by Odysseus in the 10th year of the siege of Troy: First a huge wooden horse was built, and 30 of the choicest Achaean warriors hid in its belly. Then the Achaean fleet sailed away, as if retreating. The Trojans found the horse, and with it one Achaean volunteer, Sinon, who even when tortured stuck to his story that the horse was a peace offering. The Trojans wheeled the creature into the city (that is why there are no marks of his hooves anywhere; he was on rollers). Cassandra tried to warn the Trojans, but like some of the media and a few politicians nowadays, although she was blessed with the gift of foresight, she was cursed at the same time, because nobody believed her. At night, while the Trojans slept off the effects of their libations, Sinon woke up the Achaean warriors in the horse's entrails, and they climbed out through a trap door in its side. Sinon also signaled to the Achaean fleet, which was waiting behind a nearby island. Troy was sacked and burned down, and its inhabitants were slaughtered. Helen, whose face had launched a thousand ships, was reunited with her husband Menelaus.

Getting the horse into enemy territory was only the beginning. It was done under false pretenses and with the willing participation of the future victims. In the original story, once the recipients of the "gift" welcome it, unawares, the gift bares its teeth (we may recall the saying that one should not look a gift horse in the mouth, which is rather strange in this case, given the circumstances) - and bites the hand that feeds it. Its digital namesake sneaks in unnoticed and is supposed to keep working undercover. Once its cover is blown, and it is unmasked as a Trojan (which is also a brand of condoms; I really wonder why), it is, however, as good as dead.

Troy was a city of riches, a paragon of prosperity and culture, and it was under siege. Paris, the prince, was fulfilling the goddess' orders when he abducted Helen, the beautiful wife of Menelaus, son of Atreus. Many Achaean tribes joined forces in order to release Menelaus' lawfully wedded wife. The two sides shed each other's blood for a long time without either of them getting the upper hand.

Israel can be seen as a sort of Troy under siege, with many surrounding tribes vying for its annihilation, claiming that it conquered something - territories - that lawfully belongs to one of them. The Palestinians' Trojan horse, in the eyes of many Israelis, is the Israeli Arabs, but also it is, mainly, the "right of return."

But one can look at it in a different way: Israel is Troy indeed, and it has swallowed up the territories and is holding onto them on the basis of God's promise to his Chosen People. The Palestinians have been claiming that the settlements are a Trojan horse in their midst from the very beginning. Many Israelis have thought, or have been led to believe, that the settlements are a peace offering - or, at the very least, something that will ensure their security. In a way Israel created its own Trojan horse, led it ceremoniously through the city gates, and now has to face the warriors that were bred in its belly and are currently threatening.

The French playwright Jean Giraudoux wrote a play in 1935 that was translated into English as "Tiger at the Gates." In one of its last scenes, there is an encounter between Hector the Trojan and Odysseus the Achaean, two disillusioned leaders on the eve of the decisive last battle. Odysseus says to Hector: "A nation doesn't put itself at odds with its destiny by its crimes, but by its faults. Its army may be strong, its treasury well-filled, its poets at the height of inspiration. But one day, why it is no one knows, because of some simple event, such as the citizens wantonly cutting down the trees, or their prince wickedly making off with a woman, or the children getting out of hand, the nation is suddenly lost. Nations, like men, die by imperceptible disorders."

Hector is willing to give Helen back in the play, against the collective will of his people, in order to avoid bloodshed. Odysseus doesn't believe it will matter in the least. Hector claims that Helen is merely a pretext on the part of the Greeks to lead a war of conquest and plunder. Says Hector: "I blush for Greece. She will be responsible and ashamed for the rest of time." Odysseus calms him down: "Responsible and ashamed? Do you think so? The two words hardly agree. Even if we believed we were responsible for the war, all our generation would have to do would be to deny it, and lie, to appease the conscience of future generations. And we shall lie. We'll make that sacrifice."

The original French title of the play was "The Trojan War Will Not Break Up." In Giraudoux's work, it does. As it did in World War II, and in the first and the second intifadas.

Maybe the only thing one can learn from history is history.