Pen Ultimate / A Heat Stroke of Genius

Has the heat gone to my head, or is this a brilliant brain wave for solving the Middle East conflict?

Two of the best and brightest of American songwriters penned some lines about the heat. Cole Porter did so in 1948, the same year Israel's independence was proclaimed, for his musical "Kiss Me Kate," based on Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew." The song has nothing to do with the story line, Porter's or Shakespeare's, and says, after opening with the words "It's too darn hot," that: "According to / The Kinsey report / Every average man, you know / much prefers / His lovey-dovey to court / When the temperature is low / Cause when the thermometer / Goes way up / And the weather is sizzling hot / Mr. pants for romance / A marine for his queen / A G.I. for his cutie-pie / is not / 'Cause it's too, too, / Too darn hot!"

Irving Berlin had his say in 1935, with "Heat Wave," performed originally by Ethel Merman: "We're havin' a heat wave / A tropical heat wave / The temperature's rising, it isn't surprising / She certainly can can-can!" Both Porter and Berlin wrote their lyrics long before we knew about global warming, but in any case both were more interested in the issue of "sex and temperature" - especially if we recall that "Heat Wave," and particularly its second verse, was performed by the one-and-only Marilyn Monroe in the 1954 movie "There's No Business Like Show Business": "She started a heat wave / By letting her seat wave, / In such a way that the customers say / That she certainly can can-can! / Gee, gee! / Her anatomy / Makes the mercury / Rise! / To ninety-three / We're havin' a heat wave / A tropical heat wave / The way that she moves / The thermometer proves that she certainly can!"

But in August 2007 in Tel Aviv, sex is not even close to being on the menu. We were being led to the table we booked in a local restaurant, "as close as possible to the air conditioner," and immediately asked the hostess if it was really the coldest spot in the place. She smiled apologetically and said: "The air-conditioning system can't handle the heat." I said that neither could I, but I am not supposed to, and it is. Who cares about the Kinsey report or if she can can-can: I can't handle the weather report. It makes plain thinking impossible.

From the restaurant I headed to the Tel Aviv bookshop Tola'at Sfarim (Bookworm) for a seat as I couldn't stand the heat, and all I could do about it was complain. One of my listeners started to say, while mopping his sweating brow (the air conditioner couldn't handle the situation), that the piece of land we inhabit will have to be partitioned eventually.

As is my habit, I hastened to cut off his line of thought to quote the "Baba Metzia" tractate from the Babylonian Talmud: "Two persons, who hold a garment, and each of them claims that he has found it, or that the whole belongs to him, (in such a case) each of them shall take an oath that no less than a half belongs to him, and then its value shall be divided." The original Hebrew does not say anything about "value," only about dividing the contested property, and it does not apply to the Palestinians. Admittedly, in terms of both parties, the Holy Land is not something that's found, but indeed promised, yet I think that by now the two sides know - with all due respect - that this is "nisht a groise metzia" (no great bargain). History tells us that "dividing it" is not really practical.

Here is where the guy I so rudely interrupted came up with the most brilliant idea, and should thus get the credit for it. Gilad Meltzer, an art expert and curator, proposed dividing the Land of Israel, or Palestine, not according to territory, but according to a timetable: Let the Palestinians have it all from the beginning of May till the end of October, and Israel's Jews (especially those who, like me, came here from colder climates and find it too darn hot here) will have it for the rest of the year. This sounded to me like a great improvement on Yitzhak Rabin's separatist slogan "They will be here and we will be there" (or vice versa).

For the common good

On the stairs leading up to my apartment (which are not air-conditioned) I hastened to sell this idea to my next-door neighbor, who deserves to be named, too, as he asked the most important question: Yitzhak Hezkiah, an actor, wanted to know where those who will not be living here six months of the year will live instead. Pondering the question led me to formulate the following "Peace Plan." I do not want or need the credit for proposing it. I'm happy to do it for the common good.

I entered my apartment, turned the air-conditioner on "coolest, freezing, iceberg," and my brain kept churning: It's simple, really. There are too many of us living on the planet, but there are still some unexplored territories scattered around it. It should be possible, with the active participation of the international community, to find two large plots of uncontested land, located far away from each other, in a moderate climate. Alternatively, with modern technology, it should not be too difficult to create a plot of land with a built-in, climate-regulating system.

Those who will vacate this part of the Middle East once every sixth months will spend the following half a year in one of those territories, alternating between them: This will ensure that they do not slip into a routine, that there will be no further debates over "property," and that the temporary dwelling place will not in any way be a replacement for the "Promised Land," which will still be cherished and yearned for - owned wholly, but part-time - by both sides.

For example, the first sixth months Israeli Jews will live in Israel, and the Palestinians will sojourn in Territory A; then the Palestinians will live in Palestine, and the Jews will spend six months in Territory B. The next half-year period will see the Jews in the Land of Israel again, and the Palestinians in Territory B. Meanwhile Territories A or B, which will be vacant for six months of the year, can be used to shelter refugees from all parts of the world. This could be an interim solution for the Palestinian refugee problem; and it will allow Israel's Arab community to make an educated choice as to its preferred "ambiance." Indeed, this could become a first stepping-stone on the road to profound changes in the relations between the human race and the land.

I know this plan is not perfect yet, and there are many loose ends, but without a seminal idea even the grandest vision would remain only the vaguest of dreams. Think Herzl and his idea for a Jewish state. Don't seek problems - look for the opportunities: a huge construction project, offering places of work for millions of unemployed people, a major boost for the world economy, thousands of ways to make a profit for many and to provide for even more. A huge undertaking of collective creation, utilizing the energies which until now have been so sadly wasted on wars and destruction.

One hot summer in 1915, the second year of the Great War (it was not yet World War I), a man asked to meet with the commanders of His Majesty's navy. He claimed that he had a solution to the problem of the German U-boats that were threatening Britannia's rule of the waves. "It's actually rather simple," he said. "You should just empty the sea." They asked him how he thought that could be done. "Oh, I don't know. That's my idea, but it's up to you to appoint the experts who will take care of the details."