Everything’s All Right In The Middle East  
Copyright by Robert Levin, 8/11/02  

  Can we, just for a minute, quit the Elie Weisel hand-wringing crap 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 need to be reminded that terror and panic constitute the human default condition, then whatever you're believing and doing is working for you.)
  Of the myriad ways we've come up with to make living with an impossible given tolerable, one relatively transparent example would be the quest for a SYMBOLIC immortality accomplished by a scientific discovery, or by the creation of a work of art, that will continue to exercise an influence on the world after our passing. Another example 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 outside of, getting ABOVE, the body that we know will one day be our undoing.
  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 creation--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 the parties responsible for undermining His authority and His plan for the planet. And Israel, dropped in the Arab's midst, its variegated culture implicitly challenging the validity of Arab beliefs, provides the Arabs with the infidel they need to carry out their mission. But, 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 means of self-perpetuation available to the Palestinian terrorists.)
  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 Arabs.
  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 contract'.
  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.

[Dan replies: I agree with virtually all of this- FEAR is the great hand behind actions human. & Death is the great fear of us all. The thing I find odd is- & perhaps this is because I witnessed my 1st murder at age 6- that people who have faced real death & gotten beyond it, are much happier. To me, I’ve known death at a time when others were still learning the ABCs. When our sweet little cat Chia ran away a few months ago I was faced with something new & paralyzing- helplessness at her loss. Death I know cannot be helped- it is & is final, I can deal with that. I still am affected by her true ‘loss’ than I have been by the many ‘deaths’ I’ve seen. Death is not a loss, as much as a gain of finality, or lack of future potential. My wife was even driven to try a Pet Psychic scam artist- who I will write of in a future essay. Yes, ART is fundamentally a self scream in to the Void: ‘I am/was here!’ & what is man’s greatest scream in to the void? Not his art, not his wars of glory, no- but 2 VW Bug-sized pieces of hardware, laded with impervious metal disks, that will travel for eons to tell the cosmos ‘We were! Weren’t we something?’ Of course, we cloak the Voyager spacecrafts under the ameliorative & ennobled term Science- but we may as well have bottled the scream of a heroin junky with a bad fix, a Protestant woman whose leg has been torn off in Northern Ireland, or a Chechen rebel’s death yell as he takes aim at a Russian tank. No?]

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