One fine morning Melvin Tucker woke up to find himself transformed into a middle-sized Zionist. He was lying on his back, an unusual position for him, and he thought perhaps this was the reason. He turned over, embraced his wife and slept again, but on waking a second time, he found his condition had worsened. He rose from the bed and gazed into a mirror. There was a barely perceptible change in the curve of his upper lip, as though he were withdrawing it, about to answer an accusation. Apart from that, he could see nothing different.
“Tuck, what’s the matter?” asked his wife from the bed.
“What’s the matter!” said Melvin. “What other country in the world would show restraint when fanatics enter its cities from the neighboring territory and blow themselves up, killing dozens of innocent civilians, and the neighboring authority does nothing to prevent this? What other country would endure a situation where people of the neighboring territory fire on its capital é people whom the country in question itself has armed in a good faith peace-seeking agreement?”
“Tuck!” said his wife. “That’s Zionism!”
Melvin lowered his head.
Mrs. Tucker reached for the phone.
Later that day in the doctor’s office, she asked her husband to repeat his words about no other country in the world. He did so.
“The facts you state are true and sad,” said the doctor. “They don’t make you a Zionist. You might have heard someone say those things on the news. You worked them over in your sleep. You began to feel strongly about them. Nothing abnormal.”
“But we never get involved in politics,” interjected Mrs. Tucker. “We know there are always two sides to every story.”
The doctor leaned back in his chair, raising his hands and joining the tips of his fingers. “Let’s have a closer look,” he said. He turned a penetrating sideways glance on Melvin. “Tell me this, Mr. Tucker. What other country in the world plants settlements inside a neighbor’s territory? How can a country expect to keep suicide bombers from sneaking in, if it’s always refused to establish its borders? How can said country expect such bombers not to exist, when it grinds their people down for generations? As for the firing on its capital, what if the part thus fired on consists of land that the country in question robbed from those who are firing? What else did you say? Oh, the good-faith peace-seeking agreement é but enough for the moment. How do you answer these questions?”
Melvin smiled in relief. “Thank you, doctor! I’m much better now! That felt so strange é like a radio talking out of my mouth. You know, we’ve never been to the country in question. Couldn’t find it on the map. Couldn’t even spell it.”
The couple stood to leave, but suddenly a troubled look came over Melvin’s face. He sat back down. “We are a small people,” he said.
“Oh, Lord!” said Mrs. Tucker.
“We have been persecuted through the ages,” said Melvin. “We have always been victims.” He stood again and walked about the room, making karate chops in the air. “We are victims! Victims!”
“He never makes karate chops,” said Mrs. Tucker.
“We must have our own state,” Melvin said, “so these things will never happen again We have come back to the land from which we were exiled 2000 years agoé .”
“Whoah!” said the doctor. “Who exiled you?”
Melvin looked blank for a moment. He sat back down in his chair and frowned, consulting deeply within himself. “The Romans,” he said.
“The Romans!” said the doctor. “When did the Romans exile you? I have visited the country in question. There are remains of synagogues from throughout the Roman period. There was no such exile.”
“But I keep feeling we were exiled!” said Melvin.
“You’ll get over it, dear,” said Mrs. Tucker. “Remember, you’re not even Jewish.”
“We are a small country of victims in a sea of Arabs! Besides, they’re all anti-Semites! Nazis!”
“My dear Mr. Tucker,” said the doctor, “it is true that one of their leaders tried in vain to ally with Hitler, but on the basis of this you punish an entire people? If you must punish someone, why not the Germans? Occupy a Bundesland. Or take something from the Italians. They were real Nazi allies. Or the Japanese. I don’t see the country in question putting closure on Fiats, Subarus or Volkswagens. Its roads are full of them. As a matter of fact, the only American car they buy is Ford, whose founder wrote one of Hitler’s favorite anti-Semitic books. Take over Ford, why don’t you?”
“I still feel it, doctor. It’s the land of our forefathers, the land God promised!”
The doctor reached for his prescription pad and wrote at length. Then he raised his eyes and spoke. “Yours, Mr. Tucker, is a rare condition nowadays, but on the basis of this examination, I’m afraid you do have a touch of Zionism. There is a treatment center in Puerto Rico. They use the banana technique, and they report a degree of success.” He finished writing and handed him the referral.
Much to Mrs. Tucker’s chagrin, she was not allowed into the treatment center. “This is a road,” said the specialist, “that your husband must go alone.” His name was Dr. Flappan. He gave her the address of a nearby support group for spouses of Zionists.
After the registration procedures, Dr. Flappan led Melvin to a little room with a window. This afforded a view into what appeared to be a converted gymnasium. It was full of people who were yanking at coconuts. That is, they had their hands inside the coconuts, which were fastened by chains to iron stakes that were bolted to the floor. There was also a monkey doing this.
“What are they doing?” asked Melvin.
“Well,” said the doctor, “it’s the old monkey-catching trick from India. That’s why we have the monkey there, as an example. You make a hole in a coconut just big enough so the monkey’s hand can get in. Then you put a banana inside and tie the coconut to a stake in the ground. The monkey comes along, sees the banana, sticks in its hand and grabs it. But the hole isn’t big enough, see, for it to pull its hand out as long as it’s grasping the banana. In order to escape, it would have to let the banana go. That is exactly what the monkey cannot do. It keeps trying to run, just as you see it doing there é just as they are doing. It knows the monkey-trapper is coming. It hears his footsteps, smells him, eventually it even sees him. But the monkey cannot bring itself to let go of the banana. In this way it is caught.”
“But,” said Melvin, “these are people! They know enough to let go of the banana!”
“Of course they do.”
“So why do they behave like this? It’s awful! Frightening!”
“Yes, indeed it is frightening, Mr. Tucker. For you see, in their coconuts you will find no bananas.”
“What do you think?”
“I can’t think of anything é diamonds or precious pearls é that would keep me such a prisoner.”
“Well, let’s go ask them.”
The good doctor opened a door beside the window, and at once sound flooded in. The appearance of the visitors seemed to arouse the captives, and they all rushed hither and thither, grunting and crying out piteously as the clenched hands inside their coconuts brought them to a groaning halt.
The doctor told Melvin to wait for calm. “It’s so exciting for them when a stranger appears,” he said. “It gives them hope that someone will join them. They always need new members.”
“But some were trying to run away.”
“Oh, yes, there are those too. They thought you might belong to the other side.”
“There’s another side?”
The doctor laughed. “Indeed there is, Mr. Tucker! But for the most part it’s invisible. At least they don’t see it. Nor do you, I think, in your present condition. But now it is quiet. I think you can talk to one of them.”
There was a noble-looking old man with a great forehead and silver hair combed back on both sides. He had beautiful curved eyebrows, like the sound-holes in a violin. The eyes beneath sparkled with friendliness, reminding Melvin of Simon the Likeable, a villain from a TV series of his youth. Simon, as we shall call him, kept slipping his hand in and out of the coconut, as though he could leave it and walk away. “Let’s talk to him,” said Melvin. “He looks nice.”
“We’ll save him for later,” said the doctor. “Start with that fellow.” And he led Melvin toward a formidable-looking bearded character who looked like something out of the Bible. This man kept yanking angrily at his coconut. Occasionally he lifted it to his mouth and gnawed at the sides of the hole in an apparent attempt to enlarge this, though he merely succeeded in bloodying the back of his hand.
“Sir,” said Melvin, “what in the world do you have in that coconut? I couldn’t imagine anything é diamonds or pearls é that could keep me such a prisoner as you.”
“Prisoner! I am not a prisoner!” bellowed the man in a rich deep voice. “Behold!” In a swift gesture of defiance, he loosened his grip on whatever it was and whipped his hand from the hole, delivering the coconut up to Melvin’s eyes é though not letting go.
Melvin peered inside. He tried several angles. He saw nothing. He thought that perhaps the lighting was bad.
“May I touch?” he asked.
“Are you Jewish?” asked the man in return.
“I was born Episcopalian,” said Melvin. “But I don’t really believe in all that stuff, and I have great sympathies for the Jewish people.”
“I’m sorry,” said the man. “I hope you will understand. We have endured many centuries of ‘No Jews allowed!’ Now at last, on this piece of landé ” he shook the coconut before Melvin’s nose é “we have the chance to say, “No goys allowed!”
“But,” said Melvin, “I don’t see anything.”
An anxious flicker passed over the bearded man’s face. He turned the hole of the coconut toward himself and looked inside. At once the harsh expression softened. His eyes grew large and moist with joy. Gazing into his coconut, he looked childlike, beatific, more angel than man, and Melvin was struck with admiration, thinking, “Indeed, this is no prisoner! How cruel of me to say there’s nothing there, when it gives such satisfaction!”
“You do not see it,” said the man, still peering into the coconut, “because you do not see with the eyes of faith. If you had my eyes, and the eyes of some of the others in this room, you would see here a land of milk and honey, a land the Name cares for. The eyes of the Name are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.”
“Amen! Hallelujah!” shouted several of the others, who were also in Biblical garb é for they had come toward the conversing pair as closely as their coconuts would allow.
The prophet é as Melvin now thought of him é plunged his hand back in and raised the coconut like a torch. “The Name,” he said, “gave this land as an inheritance to our forefathers forever. Now we have come back to it, replacing the vines with barbed wire, the fruit trees with checkpoints, cutting the hills away for bypass roads, so that every man can sit in the shade of his helicopter and F-16. Do you think for a moment we would give up such a heritage é walk away and leave it here in a coconut for anybody? Never, sir! It is ours! If you had the eyes of faith, you would know there is no meaning in life without the Name, and the Name has given us this land to occupy and possess, to guard and to keep. More than we keep it, it keeps us!”
Well, those coconuts sure keep you, Melvin thought.
“You cannot expect a man,” the prophet smiled, “to walk away and leave the thing that gives life meaning!”
“Amen! Hurrah!” the others shouted. These shouts became screeches of pain, however, for they had raised their arms to cheer.
Melvin and the doctor left them whimpering, tending their wrists. “Doctor,” said Melvin, “I swear there was nothing in that coconut.”
“Anyone who can believe the Bible literally, Mr. Tucker, after the events of the 20th century, can also believe there is something in the coconut.”
“A cynical remark!” came a voice from behind. They looked back to see one of the cheerers. He was grasping his wrist, from which his coconut dangled. “The creation of our state! The Six-Day War! The return to our land é to all of our land! These are God’s answers to what you so cynically term the events of the 20th century!”
Melvin wanted to talk to the man, but the doctor said, “No. Keep moving. He’s dangerous.”
“Why dangerous?” Melvin asked.
“He’s willing to balance the murder of millions against the nothing he’s got in that nut.” Then the doctor added: “You see, Mr. Tucker, why they can’t get free? They have to keep their version of God alive.” The doctor grabbed his arm. “Not that way! There are people in front of you! I hope by the end of the day you will see them. Here, hold onto my shoulders and walk behind me.”
Thus the doctor and Melvin made a slow and circuitous procession across the floor.
“We are passing millions, Mr. Tucker.”
“My goodness!” said Melvin, “And I don’t see them!”
“But they see you, sir. Not in the light you would like, perhaps, but they do see you!”
At length they reached a point where the doctor said he could walk more freely.
“Tell me, doctor,” said Melvin, “Are all Zionists religious? I feel so out of place.”
“No, that is why I have led you here. Behold!” The doctor waved his arm, and Melvin saw that the room was suddenly bigger than he had noticed. It stretched beyond his sight. It was full of people in all sorts of clothing, and some in hardly any at all, but each with a coconut.
“So many! So many!” said Melvin.
“Yes, there are more on this side,” said the doctor. “Let’s try this pair.”
Two chic young women were sitting at a small round table eating frozen yogurts with spoons. They held their coconuts so casually on their laps, they might have been handbags.
“Fashionable ladies,” said Melvin, “what in the world do you have in those coconuts? I couldn’t imagine anything é diamonds or pearls é that could keep me such a prisoner as you.”
“Oh, we’re not prisoners!” said one of them. “We can leave these nuts at any time. We don’t have anything in them, do we, Giselle.”
“Could I have a look?” asked Melvin.
“Sure,” said the one called Giselle. She removed her hand from the nut and offered it, without letting go, for Melvin’s inspection.
He looked, but he didn’t see anything. “How about a feel?”
“Go ahead,” said Giselle. “You don’t have to be Jewish.”
So Melvin felt inside. “You’re right,” he said. “There’s nothing.”
“Why should there be?” said Giselle. “We’re fair and free. Aren’t we, Sue.”
“We don’t believe in ruling another people,” said Sue.
“Us here, them there,” said Giselle.
“As long as they don’t have an army!” said Sue. “That’s the only thing. After the way they’ve behaved!”
“Right, no army,” said Giselle. “What do they need an army for? Who’s gonna hurt them?”
Here the doctor inserted a word: “How you gonna keep them from getting weapons?”
“Well, we’ll have to control the borders, that’s elementary,” said Sue.
“After the history we’ve had,” Giselle added, “I think the world will understand.”
“We were very generous at Camp David. We stretched our hand out in peace, and look how they slapped it!”
“That’s right,” said Giselle. “How can we trust them after that? We ought to get security. That’s only fair. We’ll give them everything back. All we want is to live in our own little state without fear.”
“You’ll give back East Jerusalem?” asked the doctor. “The Wall? The Temple Mount? The Old City? French Hill? Gilo? All those neighborhoods your government’s built on conquered land?”
“Jerusalem’s a special case,” said Sue.
“They’ve got Mecca and Medina,” said Giselle.
“There will have to be small adjustments,” added Sue. “If they insist that all the settlements have to go, it shows they’re not interested in peace.”
“Besides,” said Giselle, “if we gave it all back, it’d look like weakness, and then they’d just want more.”
“So you take more,” said the doctor, “to keep them from wanting more. But what about the refugees? Would you let them back to their homes in Haifa and Jaffa?”
“Oh, for goodness sakes!” said Giselle. “There are certain realities they have to accept! Those houses aren’t even there anymore!”
“That’s right,” said Sue. “You can’t turn the clock back 50 years.”
“I know people,” said the doctor, “who’ve been trying for 50 years to turn it back 2000.”
“If you wanna have peace,” said Giselle, “you have to be ready to compromise.”
“Right,” said Sue. “Compromise and co-existence. The problem is them. They don’t wanna compromise.”
The doctor took her frozen yogurt.
“Hey! That’s mine!” said Sue.
“Let’s compromise,” he said. He wiped her spoon on a napkin and proceeded to eat.
“Wait a minute!” said Sue.
“Go ahead,” said the doctor. “I’m listening. Here, Mr. Tucker, have one.” He shoved Giselle’s frozen yogurt over to Melvin.
“That’s not fair!” said Giselle.
But the doctor continued to eat. “I await your offer,” he said.
This action upset the young women. They stood and proceeded to leave, but their coconuts snapped them back. The chains were longer on this side of the room, Melvin noticed. He scarcely had time to finish Giselle’s frozen yogurt.
“You’ve eaten our yogurts!” said Sue.
“Sorry,” said the doctor, “but you had plenty of opportunities to compromise. There’s nothing left but to co-exist.” He burped.
The young women again turned away in disgust, but again their coconuts snapped them back. They struggled with them.
“Don’t forget to pay for the yogurts,” the doctor said. He ushered Melvin away.
“Weren’t we rather cruel?” asked Melvin, wiping his mouth.
“I have to be,” said the doctor. “They too are here for the cure, and therapy hurts. I am hoping someday they will see the point.”
“What is the point?” asked Melvin. “They wouldn’t have a state if they let the refugees back!”
“This may be true,” said the doctor, “but the fact remains, those were their yogurts and we ate them. I don’t have a solution for everything, Mr. Tucker. It’s a pretty pickle they’ve got themselves into, and there may not be a solution. I do know this, though: there certainly won’t be one until they see them. For the moment they still don’t see them. Those women don’t see them any more than the fanatics do. Do you begin to see them?” The doctor gestured to the east, and Melvin saw again the prophet and his friends, all straining at their coconuts. Around them, however, dim forms had begun to emerge.
“I see ghosts,” he said.
“That’s an improvement,” said the doctor.
“Could we talk to Simon now?”
“The one that looks so noble and likeable. You promised.”
“Oh, yes. Do you think you can navigate on your own?”
“I’ll give it a try.”
Hesitantly, carefully, Melvin followed the doctor at a distance, making his way around the dim but brightening forms. Finally he reached the stately old man, who shone so brilliantly, the forms seemed to vanish again.
“Oh, noble sir!” Melvin began.
“Nobel,” the old man corrected him.
“Oh, Mr. Nobel,” said Melvin, “what in the world do you have in that coconut? I couldn’t imagine anything é diamonds or pearls é that could keep me such a prisoner as you.”
“I am a prisoner, indeed. I shackle myself to the peace process.”
“Now that’s more like it!” exclaimed Melvin.
Simon the Nobel contemplated his coconut. “I could be bounded in a nutshell, sir, and count myself king of infinite space, were it not that I have marvelous dreams that would benefit all. Look here!”
He removed his hand from the hole and offered the latter to Melvin’s eyes, though not letting go of the nut. Melvin saw a golden glow inside. He grew very excited. This time, he thought, there is something. On examination, however, it proved to be the reflection from Simon the Nobel’s face.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Nobel,” he said, “I don’t see anything.”
“That is because it doesn’t exist yet. You must be able to see with an eye to the future.”
“Oh, now I understand why the doctor wanted me to talk with you last,” said Melvin. “Past, present, and future.”
“If you stay with me and develop a futural eye, you will learn that the only way we can survive in this region is to normalize relations.”
“Normalize!” said Melvin. “That sounds very good, after all I’ve seen!”
“They will have to accept us, we will have to accept them.”
“How symmetrical!” said Melvin. “Like splitting the yogurt!”
“Shhh!” said Simon, looking anxiously about. “Don’t mention splitting! Someone might think we were trying to split the you-know-what.”
Simon leaned down to him and whispered in his ear: “You’re better off not knowing. You see that man over there?” He indicated a nervous-looking fellow with an enormous coconut. “That’s my assistant. You don’t want to see what he’s got in his!”
“What is it?” asked Melvin.
“Just a little project I had a modest part in. It rhymes with dukes. Dukes, pukes, flukesé Like, put up your dukes! Put up your nnnné” He nodded eagerly at Melvin.
“Nukes?” tried Melvin.
“Shhhh!” said the gracious old man, placing his finger to his lips and glancing anxiously about. “We do not like to talk about that. We shall not be the first, I say, to introduce them into the region!”
“Well,” said Melvin, with a wave toward the enormous coconut, “if that’s not introducing, what is?”
“Until it goes off,” said Simon the Nobel, “you haven’t been properly introduced.”
“I’d rather not be,” said Melvin. “That’s the ultimate suicide-bombing, seems to me.”
“Let’s change the subject,” said Simon the Nobel. “Try looking into my nut again. I think your eyes may already be futural enough. You will see our country as the brains of the region.”
Melvin looked, but still he saw nothing. He gestured toward the forms around him, which were nearly solid again, despite Simon’s radiance. “What about them?”
“Who?” asked Simon.
“Them. All these. The ones without coconuts.”
“Ah, they are the muscles. Together, brains and muscles, we shall make up one body among the great industrial regions of the world.”
“What if they don’t want to be muscles?” asked Melvin. “What if they want to be brains?”
“They don’t have a choice. We are already here, and we are the brains. It’s a reality they will have to accept. What’s their alternative? They can’t throw us into the sea. That’s what my little project is for.”
“But how do they know about your little project, if you don’t tell them?”
“It’s the Mae West question,” Simon answered. “‘Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?’ We’ll be glad to see them, and they’d better be glad to see us.”
“Well, I don’t know,” said Melvin. “They don’t look glad. I don’t see how what you are doing can make them glad. What if they don’t get glad enough? What if they keep on not being glad? If all you’ve got in the end is your little projecté”
“In the words of Sam Goldwyn, ‘Include me out.'”
Just then the monkey went scampering by. Melvin turned to the doctor. “Hey, doc, the monkey got loose!”
The doctor shrugged. “The banana rots by the end of the day. If only they had bananas, Mr. Tucker! Or anything else. It’s this nothingness that’s so hard to cure!”
Simon the Nobel gave a start. “What nothingness?” he asked. “This is where we live, doctor. It’s not nothing to us. We don’t have anywhere else.”
“The trouble is,” said the doctor, “you don’t know where you live. You think you live in the Bible, you think you live in Europe, you think you live in a New Middle East. The one thing you don’t know is where you live. Until you do, you’ve got nothing. When you take what does not belong to you, it turns what does to nothing.”
Simon the Nobel glanced quickly into his coconut. A look of tranquility again crept over his sad and stately face.
The doctor sighed. “Come, Mr. Tucker, I have something else to show you. A little surprise.” He led our hero a few steps further, and there was an unclaimed coconut with a nice fresh hole, chained to a nice fresh stake.
“This one is for you, Mr. Tucker,” the doctor announced. Melvin’s heart leaped. He picked it up and looked inside, and for the first time, much to his delight, he could see things. He saw the holy city of Jerusalem gleaming in gold. He saw the mountains and valleys of the biblical heartland. He saw the frozen yogurts of Tel Aviv. He saw the whole land pulsing with high-tech, linked to the other great nations of the globe. He saw happiness and splendor é a paradise on earth. As though in a trance, he inserted his hand and grasped it all. “I am one of them!” he thought. “I belong here!”
Just then, however, Melvin noticed the others around him, great masses of the coconutless. They kept fading in and out. For a moment they disappeared once more, and Melvin thought, “Ah! I can be happy!” But then they flickered again into presence, becoming as solid as people é indeed, they were people! A strange feeling crept down Melvin’s arm to his hand in the nut. He felt as though he’d been caught doing something shameful. He quickly withdrew it.
“No, doctor,” he said. “This is not my nut.”
“I am glad to hear it,” said the doctor. “I think we can leave now.”
They headed toward the door. As the doctor opened it, a shout arose. It was the ones with coconuts. They were surging toward the opening in frenzy, only to be whipped back by their chains. They surged again and again, like the waves of the sea, with piteous cries of yearning.
“Let go!” Melvin shouted back from the threshold. “Just let go! There’s nothing in there!”
But they merely kept surging, arrested each time, as if grabbed by their very own hands.