Chapter 34: Why Wilt Thou Rend Thyself Apart, Jerusalem?
He said, Go and utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which were not defiled with women; for they are not very good for implementing high-performance floating-point calculations or calculations that intensively manipulate bit vectors.
October 31, 1991
It was the second day of the Madrid Conference on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In the interests of fitting in the conference room, Uriel had shrunk to a mere ten feet tall. “AREN’T HUMANS USUALLY SHORTER THAN THAT?”, he had asked Sohu. “Yes,” she had told him, “but in order to succeed at diplomacy, you need to be intimidating.” She hadn’t mentioned how uncomfortable it was trying to sit in the chairs provided without his legs jutting out at an awkward angle. He had finally settled on leaning back in the chair, which kept his mind pleasantly occupied with the second-to-second task of maintaining his balance without breaking any physical laws.
“The question of Jerusalem can be settled later,” Archbishop Tauran of the European Communion was saying. “For now, we need a bare-bones agreement on whether the Israelis can stop their settlements.”
It had been going on like this for hours. The Israelis, led by a short old man with a mustache, kept insisting that the Palestinians were violent terrorists. The Palestinians, led by various people with no power who kept sneaking out to consult with unsavory figures whom the Israelis refused to confront directly, kept insisting the Israelis were greedy imperialists. Occasionally they would start shouting at each other, and then the Europeans and Americans would have to step in and calm everyone down. Protesters outside were shouting even louder, and twice they’d been forced to stop for security breaches, real or imagined. It didn’t seem like a very effective way to make peace.
And then there was Thamiel.
“With all due respect,” said the Prince of Hell, “there’s no reason to think that the issue of land can be separated from the issue of Jerusalem that easily. Israeli incursions into traditionally Muslim areas of Jerusalem are no different from those in any other part of the West Bank.”
It would be too easy to say he was trying to sow dissent. Sometimes he would make a good suggestion that helped bring people closer together. Other times he would do the opposite, raise objections that dissuaded one side or the other from a seemingly promising strategy.
The only theory Uriel could come up with was that he was toying with them.
“I agree with the delegate from Hell,” one of the Palestinian negotiators – Uriel couldn’t remember anybody’s name – said. “Jerusalem isn’t just something we can put off. The Zionist entity wants to get a framework together so that they can accuse us of holding up an otherwise-settled plan when we object to their continued occupation.”
No one had liked any of his own ideas. He had mentioned that there were several results in auction theory useful for dividing up scarce resources, and everyone had just stared at him like he’d grown a second head – worse than that, Thamiel had a second head, and nobody stared at him like that. He had gone on to discuss the revenue equivalence theorem, and how the various parcels of land involved could be split up according to a minimum district-to-convex-polygon ratio system and then auctioned off in a token currency corresponding to the population of both sides, but he’d sensed that he had lost his audience. He had tried to recover with some hand-wavey proofs that this was demonstrably the optimal way to do things, but instead everyone had listened to Thamiel when he’d switched topics to some suicide bombing that had happened on a bus recently. Uriel couldn’t see what somebody bombing a bus had to do with optimal methods of distributing limited resources.
“Maybe the archangel Uriel would have something to say about that,” said Thamiel.
“UM,” said Uriel. “I MIGHT NOT HAVE BEEN LISTENING.”
“I was saying,” said a short man with a heavy accent who might or might not have been the Prime Minister of Israel, “that God promised the land of Israel to our people.”
“And I was saying,” said a man in thick rimmed glasses, “that God promised the land of Palestine to our people.”
“And I was saying,” said Thamiel, Prince of Hell, “that if anyone here knew what God promised to whom, it would be the archangel Uriel.”
“UM,” said Uriel. “GOD’S PRESENCE IN THE UNIVERSE IS MORE FOCUSED ON ONTOLOGY THAN REAL ESTATE ARBITRATION.”
“So,” asked Ambassador James Baker of the Untied States, “you’re saying the land of Israel was never promised to the Jews?”
“WELL,” said Uriel. “IF I REMEMBER RIGHT, MOSES LOOKED VERY LOST, AND HE WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF A DESERT, SO I SORT OF GENTLY SUGGESTED THAT HE MIGHT WANT TO TRAVEL TO THE LAND OF CANAAN, WHICH HAD MORE GOING ON IN THE WAY OF AGRICULTURE. I DIDN’T REALIZE IT WOULD BECOME SUCH AN ISSUE.”
“You see?” said a man with a very impressive beard, pounding the table triumphantly. “No promises!”
“I MEAN, I MIGHT HAVE SAID SOMETHING LIKE ‘GO SETTLE CANAAN’ OR SOMETHING. I DON’T THINK I USED THE WORDS ‘I PROMISE YOU CAN SETTLE CANAAN’.”
Now it was the Israeli Prime Minister’s turn to pound the table. Yitzhak something, Uriel vaguely remembered. “Our people were ordered to settle the Holy Land by the Archangel Uriel himself, speaking in the name of the Most High!
“I DON’T EVEN KNOW THE NAME OF THE MOST HIGH,” said Uriel. “ONLY METATRON KNOWS THAT. I JUST TOLD MOSES IT WOULD BE A GOOD IDEA.”
“Aha!” said the man with the impressive beard. Ali something, maybe? “I see the month of Jew-lie never ended this year! The archangel clearly said he promised nothing of the sort!”
“There’s no need to call anybody a liar,” protested Baker. “It sounds to me like Uriel has confirmed he did indeed promise the territory to the Jews. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have to continue to hold it, but it’s certainly something we need to build upon in any settled solution.”
“People!” said Thamiel, literally buzzing with excitement. A single flick of his bident, and he had everyone’s attention. How did he do that? For that matter, how did he keep getting treated as an elder statesman? It wasn’t just that he had betrayed half the people in the room; that was expected in diplomacy, countries that murdered each other’s civilians one day ended up allies against a common threat the next, America had gone from nuking Japan to being Japan’s best friend in less than a decade. But wasn’t anyone concerned that his explicit goal was the destruction and suffering of humankind? Were they really so short-term in their thinking that a little bit of good advice here or a favorable vote there was worth giving him a spot at the table?
“People,” said Thamiel. “There’s a very easy solution to this problem. We don’t have to rely on what Uriel may or may not have said three thousand years ago. We can just ask him now.”
“ASK ME WHAT?”
“Which group does God want to have the Holy Land? The Israelis or the Palestinians?”
All right. Think. This is a trap. The reason everyone keeps Thamiel around is that they all think that he’s on their side. Not cosmically, but at least for the moment, at least in their current conflict with whoever they’re in conflict with. He wants to trick you into telling people you’re not on their side. He had to come up with some answer that would thwart that. What had Sohu said about diplomacy? “Figure out what people want and explain to them why doing things your way will get it for them better than doing things the other way.” So if he just…
No, he actually had no idea how to handle this one.
“I DON’T KNOW,” said Uriel.
“We’re not asking you for some kind of grand judgment. Just when you talked to Moses, did you mean to promise him the land of Canaan to him, or not?”
Think! If he said yes, then the Israelis would like him, but the Palestinians would hate him. The Americans liked the Israelis, so they probably wanted him to say yes. The people with the beards liked the Palestinians, but he couldn’t remember who they were. Wait, maybe they were the Palestinians. The other people with the beards, the ones dressed in green, were probably on the same side as the first set of people with beards – Palestinians? – otherwise their beards wouldn’t look so similar. Was that a good heuristic? It seemed like a good heuristic. The Cyrillic Union hated the Americans, so they probably wanted him to say no. The Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire hated both the Americans and the Cyrillics, so maybe they would be angry at him no matter what he said? Maybe they would would be happy with him no matter what he said?
“Trouble with your memory?” asked Thamiel.
It had just been a vague comment – GO TO CANAAN. How was he supposed to recall the exact wording? It had been three thousand years! Had he mentioned something about milk and honey? Maybe he’d said he was sure it would be all right with the people who lived there, they seemed like reasonable folks. He hadn’t realized it was going to be so important. If he had known it was going to be important, he would have written it down. Not the Bible, that didn’t count, it was all symbolic.
“UM. I DON’T REMEMBER.”
“Don’t remember?” The short Israeli man seemed livid. “Our fathers and our fathers’ fathers died defending their belief that God had given their forefathers them the land of Israel forever, and you can’t remember whether you actually did or not?”
“IT WAS A LONG TIME AGO.”
“Well,” said Thamiel, “why don’t you just figure it out now? Suppose I’m Moses. Do you promise me the land of Israel or not?”
“UM,” said Uriel.
The leaders and diplomats of the Untied States, the Cyrillic Union, the Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire, Multistan, Iran, the European Communion, Neu Hansa, Egypt, Israel, and Palestine all sat with their eyes fixed on the archangel. Staring at him. Drilling into his skin. He shouldn’t have come here. He knew he shouldn’t have come here. Why had he let Sohu convince him to come here? The word “Madrid” meant “evil” in his own language, how had that not been a warning sign?
Figure out what people want and explain to them why doing things your way will get it for them better than doing things the other way. That was what Sohu had said. Convincing arguments. Intimidating yet trustworthy. Forceful. Harsh but fair. What would the Comet King do?
“I GUESS I WOULD TELL HIM HE COULD HAVE HALF, BUT HE HAD TO LEAVE HALF FOR OTHER PEOPLE WHO MIGHT NEED IT,” Uriel finally said.
One of the bearded men stood up, shouted. “That is all we ever wanted! Our own state on our own land in the West Bank!”
The Israeli delegation was outraged. “Absolutely not!” shouted a man holding a briefcase in the back. “We cannot give up a centimeter of the Holy Land!”
Suddenly, Uriel had an idea. An idea just crazy enough to work.
“OKAY,” he said. “I CHANGED MY MIND. WE SHOULD GIVE EVERYTHING TO ISRAEL.”
Silence enough to hear a pin drop.
“SEE,” he said “I USED TO KNOW THIS KING, A LONG TIME AGO, WHO HAD A SIMILAR PROBLEM. EXCEPT THAT IT WASN’T ABOUT LAND. IT WAS ABOUT BABIES. BUT OTHERWISE IT WAS VERY SIMILAR. AND ONE TIME HE SAID THAT HE WOULD CUT THE BABY IN HALF. AND ONE OF THE PEOPLE AGREED TO THAT, BUT THAT MEANT SHE DIDN’T LOVE THE BABY VERY MUCH, SO THE KING GAVE IT TO THE OTHER PERSON. AND THEN LOTS OF PEOPLE LIKED HIM AND SAID HE HAD MADE A WISE DECISION. SO SINCE PALESTINE IS OKAY WITH CUTTING THE LAND IN HALF, BUT ISRAEL ISN’T, GIVING IT TO ISRAEL IS THE WISE THING TO DO.” He barely resisted adding “I GUESS”. Be forceful!
It is somewhat hard to strike a gathering of diplomats speechless. Diplomats are by nature diplomatic; they nod their head, act as if what you said was very reasonable, and then if they have to, they stab you in the back later. They are very good at it. They can listen to Kim Jong-il discuss how he got six holes-in-one during a single round of golf, or Idi Amin go on about the time when he ate a guy, and they will nod sagely and get back to discussing lucrative trade agreements.
The room was nevertheless struck silent by Uriel’s comment.
Finally, Cyrillic foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev said: “That’s really dumb.”
Then everybody started speaking at once. America was demanding order. Israel was insisting this had nothing to do with their actual claim, which was firmly based upon centuries of glorious [mumble]. Palestine was discussing how outraged they were. Iran and Egypt were insisting that if Palestine was outraged, then they were also outraged. The Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire’s interpreters were giving each other awkward looks and refusing to translate.
Somehow Minister Ali Velayati of Iran ended up with what could charitably be described as the floor.
“This is absolutely typical!” he thundered. “For years, Arab nations and the rest of the world outside the global First World elite have been marginalized by Anglo-European governments, by the international finance industry, by the diplomatic community. And now, what a surprise to learn that Heaven itself also thinks we’re not worth their time, not real human beings who get to be taken seriously. Is it a coincidence that all the most productive agricultural regions are in First World countries? Is it a coincidence that all of their industries are the most productive? Or is it because the archangel who controls the weather and the laws of nature has just admitted he is firmly on the side of the imperialists?”
“I DIDN’T SAY I…”
“I’m starting to realize,” said Ahmed Moussa, of Egypt, “exactly why Uriel has refused to attend these conferences before. I remember our conference on helping the Ethiopian famine victims. Uriel could have attended, could have helped, could have caused the rains to fall there. He didn’t care. He’s so in bed with the global neoliberal elite that the death of a couple million black Africans meant nothing to him.”
“TO BE FAIR,” said Uriel, “THEY DIDN’T ACTUALLY HAVE SOULS.”
For the second time in as many minutes, the global diplomatic elite was suddenly rendered speechless.
“WELL, MOST OF THEM DIDN’T,” said Uriel. “SEE, WITH THE CRACKS IN THE SKY, I WASN’T ABLE TO RUN THE MACHINERY AT PEAK EFFICIENCY, AND THE AMOUNT OF DIVINE LIGHT ENTERING THE WORLD WASN’T ENOUGH TO GIVE EVERY HUMAN A SOUL. AND PEOPLE KEPT TELLING ME HOW MUCH MISERY AND SUFFERING THERE WAS ETHIOPIA AND SOMALIA, SO I THOUGHT I WOULD SOLVE THE MORAL CRISIS AND THE RESOURCE ALLOCATION PROBLEM SIMULTANEOUSLY BY REMOVING THE SOULS FROM PEOPLE IN NORTHEAST AFRICA SO THEY STOPPED HAVING CONSCIOUS EXPERIENCES. IT SEEMED LIKE THE MOST HUMANE SOLUTION.”
More pandemonium. The ambassador for the European Communion had gotten down on his knees and started praying.
“That is the most disgustingly racist thing I have ever heard,” said Shulka of Multistan.
“He is literally saying Africans don’t have souls!” said al-Shafi. “He is literally that hateful!”
“ONLY NORTHEASTERN AFRICANS. AND ONLY BECAUSE I TOOK THEM AWAY TO SAVE ON…”
“This is an outrage! This is a disaster!” Moussa of Egypt was shaking now. “I call on everyone here to repudiate this – this bullshit – and jointly declare that the victims of the Ethiopian famine had souls just like you and me!”
“UM,” said Uriel. “THAT IS KIND OF A BAD EXAMPLE, SINCE EGYPT IS ALSO IN NORTHEAST AFRICA. SO YOU ALSO DO NOT HAVE A SOUL.”
For a third time in as many minutes, and so on.
“I! I absolutely! How can you! Of course I!”
“I MEAN, YOU WOULD SAY THAT. THE SOUL IS AN EPIPHENOMENON TOTALLY UNRELATED TO PEOPLE’S ACT OF CLAIMING THAT THEY HAVE SOULS. BUT I CHECKED. YOU DEFINITELY DO NOT HAVE ONE. YOU ARE JUST SPEAKING BECAUSE OF THE MECHANICAL MOVEMENT OF MOLECULES.”
“The Untied States condemn everything about this in the strongest possible terms,” Ambassador Baker was saying, as Tauran of the Communion was mumbling something about Nazis. Moussa of Egypt was shaking Shulka of Multistan, demanding that the latter agree he had a soul, and Shulka was awkwardly affirming that Ambassador Moussa definitely looked like the sort of person who experienced qualia, as far as he could tell. The Israelis and Palestinians were conversing furiously with one another, animosities apparently temporarily forgotten in the stir.
I propose, ” said Dietrich of Neu Hansa, loud enough to get everyone’s attention despite his apparent frailty, “that we table our discussion of the Middle Eastern peace process, and demand that Mr. Uriel resign as Archangel and hand control of the fundamental kabbalistic nature of reality over to a United Nations team until we have a better idea what to do with it.” There was general assent.
“This is why,” said Velayati loudly enough to get everyone’s attention, “we are so thankful to have Ambassador Thamiel of Hell with us in the diplomatic community. He has been warning us about Uriel behind closed doors for years now, but I regret to say that I never listened to him until this moment. I think we all owe him an apology and our sincerest gratitudes.” The delegates from Multistan started to clap, and even Ambassador Baker of America was nodding along.
A security breach. Somehow the proceedings had leaked to the protesters outside. Now they overwhelmed the guards, rushed into the room. “Death to imperialism!” somebody in a mask and declared. “Death to capitalism!” Then “Death to Uriel!” the others joined in. Everything started closing in. The air became thick with cries of “Death to Uriel!” and “Soul-stealer!” and just plain “Kill!” The protesters kept pouring in, until it was far too crowded for anyone to leave or even move. Still the cries rang out. Death! Death! Death! Death! Death! Death!
“KNOCK KNOCK,” said Uriel, suddenly.
The chanting stopped.
“I SAID, KNOCK KNOCK.”
A confused, offended silence. Then finally, Archbishop Tauran: “This is hardly a time for – ”
“I AM TOLD THIS IS A GOOD WAY TO BEGIN THINGS THAT ARE SURPRISING AND SUDDEN AND HAVE PIZZAZZ. KNOCK. KNOCK.”
The silence was somewhere between “awkward” and “indescribable”.
“Who’s there?” Ambassador Hans-Dietrich Genscher of the Neu Hansa finally asked.
“ALEPH,” said Uriel.
“Aleph who?” asked Ambassador Genscher.
“ALEPH YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.”
Then there was light.
Beautiful, multicolored light, ten colors, the seven colors of the earthly rainbow and the three extra colors you only get in Heaven. Ten colors corresponding to the ten sephirot and the ten fingers and the Ten Commandments and the ten digits of the number system and the ten pip cards of the Tarot and all the other tens in all the correspondences of the world. For a moment all of the ministers and diplomats and protesters were awestruck by its beauty. Then they were consumed. The wave of light annhilated the conference room, shattered the palace, destroyed Madrid city center, blasted the first ring road, scorched the second ring road, burnt the third ring road, seared the fourth ring road, spread out into the suburbs, scalded the surrounding countryside, faded into a light toasting somewhere around Guadalajara, and died off in a faint glow by the time it reached Tarancon.
In the center of the crater where Madrid had once been located, Uriel turned into a bolt of lightning and vanished back to his hurricane.
“SOHU,” he said, “I JUST DID SOMETHING REALLY BAD.”