“An imaginary line gets traced one day by some doddering king in his bed or drawn on the table by powerful men as if they were playing a game of poker…
It’s ironic to think of the doddering kings and poker-playing politicians in Europe a century after they drew imaginary lines in the Middle Eastern sand.
When the French divided Syria and Lebanon, they created a border that today takes two to three hours hours each way to get through. Meanwhile, France and the rest of the European Union have eliminated the time spent crossing borders within Europe.
In contrast to those of us on the Middle East Travel Seminar, contemporary travelers in Europe do not idle away hours at each border wondering why border bathrooms are simultaneously so much dirtier and more expensive than the rest of the country.
Sadly for them, those travelers in the E.U. lack the beautifully-colored visas and passport stamps that we received on our Middle East journey.
More seriously, the E.U. members are learning that once our borders go down, our inter-connectedness can be scary. For example, Europe risks the economy tanking (e.g., Greece) or allowing “those people” (e.g., North Africans or Turks) into all of the Continent.
In the Middle East, the Syrians and Israelis are similarly fearful for their security. If they relax border restrictions, the inter-connectedness could facilitate death to both parties.
This is why we fear relaxing borders. We need everyone to be in the place where we put them. We need to divide the world into yours, ours, and theirs. Being stateless even for ten minutes is a strange feeling for those of us who have only known carved up land and territories since the first time we played on U.S. and world maps drawn on the floor of our elementary school gym.
This happened to us between checkpoints on the Lebanese borders: in each direction, we had a 5-10 minute drive through “no (wo)man’s land.” We had left one country but not entered another. I am sure that the Syrian and Lebanese governments knew where the border was, but I was unnerved. I gripped my passport and kept my camera hidden.
It is much less nerve-wracking to have big black lines separating countries on a map.
Your state is blue; my state is red.
Your people are terrorists; mine are freedom fighters.
Your seminary is evangelical; mine is social-justice oriented.
Everything can go in little boxes: this belongs here, that belongs there. Sharing is irrelevant in this mindset. The only way to create a map of the Occupied (Palestinian) Territories is to judge which claim is strongest and cut out the other group. To drive along a border without knowing which country you are in—without being able to clearly delineate whose is whose—challenges the surety of the world that we have had since the Peace of Westphalia.
This summer I am working with a woman who is a fervent Christian Zionist. Her church has an Israeli flag hanging out front, right next to the U.S. and Christian flags, and she thinks entirely in a good/evil dichotomy for Jewish/Muslim issues in the Middle East. Sometimes I envy her surety at “knowing” exactly the answer to everything. She can divide each bit of the universe into tiny boxes and tell me what goes where. If she were in between Syria and Lebanon, I doubt she would be unnerved by the no man’s land. Rather, she would say clearly,
“This goes here.”
…to be continued…