“The Levant is a world of ancient civilizations which cannot be sharply differentiated from the Mediterranean world, and is not synonymous with Islam, even if a majority of its inhabitants are Moslems. The Levant has a character and history of its own. It is called ‘Near’ or ‘Middle’ East in relationship to Europe, not to itself. Seen from Asia, it could just as well be called the ‘Middle West.’ Here, indeed, Europe and Asia have encroached on one another, time and time again, leaving their marks in crumbling monuments, and in the shadowy memories of the Levant’s peoples. Ancient Egypt, ancient Israel, and ancient Greece, Chaldea and Assyria, Ur and Babylon, Tyre, Sidon and Carthage, Constantinople, Alexandria and Jerusalem are all dimensions of the Levant. So are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which clashed in dramatic confrontation, giving rise to world civilizations, fracturing into stubborn local subcultures, and the multi-layered identities of the Levant’s people. It is not exclusively western or eastern, Christian, Jewish or Moslem. Because of its diversity, the Levant has been compared to a mosaic-bits of stone of different colors assembled into a flat picture. To me it is more like a prism whose various facets are joined by the sharp edge of differences, but each of which … reflects or refracts light.”
Jacqueline Kahanoff (1917-1979) was an Egyptian-Jewish essayist and fiction writer who wrote in English and French, and lived as an adult in New York, Paris, and Be’er Sheva. The above, taken from one of her essays, appears in After Arabs and Jews: Remaking Levantine Culture by Ammiel Alcalay, University of Minnesota Press.