Apocalypse in the Middle East
For the Israeli settlers in Gaza their expulsion is more than an ending; more than catastrophic. It is apocalyptic, which is to say an event seeded with meaning that is at once utopic and dystopic.
The sun that set on Saturday night may well have brought an end to the last Jewish Sabbath in Gaza, but it didn't seem that way in the south Gaza settlement of Neve Dekalim.
"No one thinks it's the last Shabbat," said Esti Hababo, 15, one of a swarm of women, children and idle youngsters waiting outside the synagogue for the men to emerge from the end of Shabbat prayers.
"We all think we will be here again next week. We believe that we are going to stay here and we pray to God he will send the Messiah." (O'Loughlin 2005)
In many religious traditions the apocalypse oscillates between two trajectories: it is resisted and averted ("No one thinks it is the last Shabbatt") or it is sealed and transformed ("we pray to God that he will send the Messiah"). Either way apocalyptic narratives invest everyday events with meaning drawn from past traditions and future hopes. For many adherents of both secular and religious apocalyptic traditions the apocalyptic is not merely a way of framing an event, it is a way of life.
Both the Israeli and the Palestinian people on the West Bank have been living an apocalyptic moment for over thirty years. Until recently the Israeli experience was one of apocalyptic fulfillment whereas the Palestinian experience was of apocalyptic dispossession.
Peter Manning (2003) in an analysis of the coverage of muslim life and culture in Australian news media concluded that both local and international coverage of muslim issues are viewed through the lens of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. In much broader terms it could be argued that this conflict provides one important lens through which contemporary western narratives of the apocalyptic are being mediated.
For American Christian fundamentalists who believe in a complex end time scenario played out in the Middle East the apocalyptic significance of these events is crucial. Although these groups believe that only 144,000 Jews will be “saved,” the rebuilding of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem - currently the site of The Dome of the Rock, one of Islam's holiest mosques - is a key precursor to Jesus' second coming. So although they work hard on behalf of the state of Israel, it seems that it is only because the Jews are pawns in their larger end-game.
The apocalypse myth has a long lineage in a variety of cultures not just the Judeo-Christian world (Cohn 1993). As Eugen Weber has argued, “apocalypse long furnished the key to human history,” (Weber 1999:5) particularly in the Judeo-Christian west where until the 17th century “premonitory history” was history. Although, after the enlightenment turn to reason, this apocalyptic mindset began to “seep out of educated consciousness, it did so only partially and incompletely” (Weber 1999:3).
Berger (2000:388) and others have argued that in spite of this post-enlightenment move the apocalypse narrative is key to understanding recent history.
The apocalyptic in contemporary cultures is being remediated through a set of multimodal mythic clusters, produced in the interstitial spaces that proliferate between news media, film and television drama. While each of these cultural fields are defined by their particular forms and inherent possibilities, their boundaries are permeable and each functions as part of the network of sense making structures available to postmodern “nomadic subjects” (Braidotti 1994; Brown 1996).