Everything's All Right in the Middle East
by Robert Levin
edited: Monday, December 23, 2002
Posted: Monday, December 23, 2002
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A mutual solution to the problem of being mortal.
Can we, just for a minute, dispense with the
hand-wringing and acknowledge that the
problem Israel and the Palestinians have with one
another is actually their mutual solution to the
problem of being mortal?
Of course to understand what I'm talking about it
is first necessary to recognize that it's not love
or sex or money that makes the world go around but
the fact of death; that what drives virtually
everything we believe and do is the need to
reduce,to at least a manageable degree of fear,
the terror and panic the anticipation of death
causes us. (If you can't quite grasp this notion,
if you have to be reminded that terror and panic
constitute the human default condition, then
whatever you're believing and doing is working for
Of the myriad subtle and blatant ways we've come
up with to make living with an impossible given
tolerable, one example would be the symbolic
immortality we assure ourselves of by leaving
behind a scientific discovery, or a work
of art, that will continue to have an
influence on the world. Another is the
accumulation of inordinate wealth.
The god-like trappings great sums of money buy
enable us to feel not just superior to the common
man, but less vulnerable to the common fate. Still
another is getting high, which is about getting
ABOVE the body that we know will one day be our
And then there's our invention of an afterlife.
Presenting us with a chance to survive death--if
we honor the pronouncements and follow the
dictates we've assigned to deities of our own
fashioning--it's this immortality illusion that's
at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The Arabs are qualifying for eternity by doing
what they've determined to be God's work, which is
to make war on those who, ignoring or questioning
His authority, are undermining His plan for the
planet. And Israel, dropped in the Arab's midst,
its diverse culture implicitly challenging the
validity of Arab beliefs, provides the Arabs with
the infidel they need to carry out their mission.
For Arabs, it's not about killing Jews, per se.
Jews are simply a fortuitously placed means to a
purchase on heaven. (You could say that--their
culture being, by all appearances, limited in its
repertoire of immortality illusions to the
resources of Islam--suicide is the only instrument
of self-perpetuation available to the Palestinian
On the other hand, the Arabs afford Israelis an
opportunity to continually certify their
biblically bestowed "chosen" status--AND TO ASSURE
THEMSELVES OF THE POST-CORPOREAL REWARDS IMPLICIT
IN THE ANOINTMENT--by constantly threatening, but
never accomplishing, Israel's destruction.
Persistently testing Israel's exalted designation,
but never disproving it, enabling Israel to be
embattled AND remain intact, the Arabs are every
bit the blessing to Israel that Israel is to the
It follows that the violence each side visits on
the other must be measured; balances and
proportions need to be kept. For one side to win,
after all would be for both sides to lose; would,
that is, end the game and return BOTH sides to a
contemplation of the Void. We might call this
aiding and abetting of one another's immortality
illusions--the cooperation and the accommodations
it requires--the deeper definition of the "social
So we can engage ad infinitum in the most earnest
discussions about anti-Semitism, about Arafat,
about Sharon, about territory and occupation, and
forever miss the real dynamic of the situation.
The Arab-Israeli problem is, again, a solution to
a more pressing problem, to what is, literally as
well as figuratively, the mother of all problems.
And what accounts for the tenaciousness of the
conflict is the ongoing success it's enjoying in
the service of its underlying agenda. As long as
this holds true , Arabs and Israelis will, on one
level or another, be enemies. Because for all of
the horrors hostilities between them cause, they
cause a more acceptable, a more BEARABLE species
of horror than the fact of oblivion does.
The pain we are witnessing is a palliative. These
are not the worst of times in the Middle East.