It was a beautiful morning in late May as we worked our way through the streets of Jerusalem. For most of our students there was not a care to be had. For myself and my co-leader we understood the gravity of what we were about to experience. All of sudden off in the distance we could see the wall. Not just any wall, but rather the wall which separates Israel from the West Bank. Are destination for the day was the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem which meant we needed to enter in to the West Bank. As we approached the check point four Israeli soldiers immediately came around our bus. Simultaneously one soldier emerged from the front staircase as the other came in the rear. For many on the bus it was a first. First time sitting beside a person with a loaded machine gun, first time being question by the Israeli IDF and more importantly the first many of them had personally seen the wall. It was emotional to say the least. As we passed through the wall It was evident that we had just changed reality. In fact, I began to immediately see three realities emerge. First, the reality of Israel and their desire to protect and secure a stable society. Second, the reality of the Palestinian people facing their oppression and caged life. Third, the simulated reality in which almost every person on the bus was guilty of, due to years of being active participants in the “theater” of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. The first two realities I expected, but the third caught me by surprise.
While reading Contemporary Social Theory by Anthony Elliot I was struck by Baudrillard’s idea of post-modernity as simulated media culture. Within this social theory Baudrillard argues the point that “simulations” are all that exist. One of Baudrillard’s most controversial claims came in March 1991, (Elliot pg. 246) where he wrote an article for liberation, “The Gulf War Did Not Take Place”. Inflammatory to say the least, however Baudrillard’s point was made. As the Gulf War unfolded before our very eyes it created a hyper reality. For the first time in history we were able to watch war live from the comforts of our own homes, and many did. Many of us, simply sat on our couches and watched laser guided missiles hit and disintegrate their targets like we were watching highlights on ESPN. We became active participants in the audience while generals gave orders like screen directors in a play. During the Gulf War the battle field became known as the “theater”. It is only this week while reading Baudrillard’s claim that I now have language to explain what I experienced that day with my team at the checkpoint.
Three Realities of The Wall
Protection… Israel is a nation state that will and often does protect it’s borders. For many living in Israel protecting themselves is a way of life. For Israel, “the wall” means protection. Protection from radicals and any who would bring harm to their people. After 34 different suicide bombings in 2001 alone, Israel in June of 2002 decided to start building “the wall”. The wall for many Israelis was intended to gain control and limit movement of potential terrorists coming from or passing through the Palestinian territories. After construction began suicide terror attacks began to slow. In recent years, there has been almost no terrorist activity. Israel would say it’s because of the wall.
Oppression… The West Bank is essentially the largest ghetto on the planet. The Palestinian people are largely confined, often not permitted to come and go with any significant freedom. What comes to your mind when I say the word Palestinian? I know, it use to come to my mind as well. Then I befriended a few Palestinians. It changed my entire perspective on those living behind the wall. This past year while traveling to Bethlehem Bible College I was able to hear the heartbeat of four Christian Palestinian leaders in the West Bank Church. As I listened, I was impressed by their heart for reconciliation, missional living and the need to forgive their enemies. It was evident there is a great movement of God happening behind these walls. The wall to the Palestinians is a cage.
Myth… Most of the world has never been to the West Bank. What most of us know and have formed our opinions on has come through the hyper reality of news networks, news articles and maybe even our pulpits. If your anything like me I thought I understood “the wall” the problem, and then I went. What I realized was that I had previously become and active participant in the “theater” of oppression. I sat by on my couch night after night entertained by this grand two dimensional simulation unfolding. And then on that day in late May we emerged on the other side of the check point. Life for me would never be the same. Simulation faded away to reality. Blank faces on a screen, now in person had emotions. I will be forever changed.
How about you?
Which reality do you live in?
Have you been captured by the image of God in his creation, or has simulation become your norm?