There is a recognised condition known as Jerusalem Syndrome, a syndrome unique in the annals of psychiatry, in that its incidence is demonstrably tied to a particular place on earth.
People who suffer from it will behave perfectly rationally at all times, until they enter Jerusalem's municipal boundaries, at which point they go stark raving bezerk.
So far as I am aware, the documented cases have consisted exclusively of fundamentalist Christian types who can't visit the place without ending up convinced that they are Christ Incarnate, at which point they are liable to go haring down the Jaffa Road in the direction of the Old City, stark naked, and yelling obscure imprecations to passersby in a wild mixture of Hebrew, Aramaic, and a range of completely made up dialects of their own devising.
However, it should be apparent to anyone with more than a passing acquaintance with the City of Peace, that the syndrome extends far beyond these sad few deathfixated polytheistsindenial.
N oone is immune to whatever it is that does whatever it does. It affects the whole population; Jew, Moslem, Christian, Zoroastrian and Satanist alike. Unsure? Read the Likud's foreign policy. Find out how well Mahmoud Abbas treats his people. Then realise that in the scheme of things, these people are widely considered to be fairly mainstream. Truly.
What Jerusalem does is, for some reason, to amplify desire.
No matter how much you want something, you'll want it much more in Jerusalem. The casual observer would be astonished at the wide variety of entirely unexpected things that are available in the town - sex, drugs, hermetically enclosed ultrareligious environments in all flavours (including cheese and onion), great world cinema, online services, and death - these things are all pretty easy to come by.
When you go to Jerusalem, you find out what it is you want, pretty quickly. You can tell, because it is the thing that you have become obsessed by, that takes over your soul, and will destroy your mind unless you take urgent steps.
In the general direction of away, ideally, as in the old Israeli joke about the best thing in Jerusalem being the road to Tel Aviv. For some, it can be a spiritually enlightening experience - a minority do go mad, while others are too ingrained into Western materialism to notice what's going on.
Others go into politics.
In my case, it was easy. I was stuck there for a year, and didn't want to be. I had wanted to be there, once, but by the time I actually arrived I knew it was a mistake.
All I wanted, apart from to leave, was to get drunk, and stay drunk. My very soul desired beer, of which there was no shortage. I drank very heavily indeed, until the time came, finally, to go back to London. To be truthful, there were things other than beer that I wanted, but none of them were available.
I can say from experience that the active 'ingredients' in Israeli beer definitely go beyond normal alcohol. It's the antifreeze, or the gnats' metabolisms, or something (they say they have to give the gnats 12 hours rest out of every 24 in the Maccabee beer factory, so they can refill their bladders), but whatever it is, it's a shortcut to alcoholism in a big hurry.
Alcoholic Zionism is a fairly new thing, and between you and me, I don't think it will get very far. Those who know what I mean know what I mean. Know what I mean?
As for the rest of you, I hope this goes some way towards explaining the bloody mess the Middle East finds itself in. There are many people there that I love dearly, but it has to be admitted — the thing is, they're all just stark staring bonkers, on both sides.
It's as simple as that lapsed anarchist zionist youth movement.
- Originally printed in The Swallow