Behind the Security Fence
Trip Start Sep 17, 2007
273Trip End Oct 08, 2008
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Bethlehem is only 6km away from Jerusalem. But it may as well be on the other side of the world. Because to get there you have to cross the Security Fence and enter the West Bank, aka Palestine. I was pretty sure that neither set of parents would approve of us running around in the West Bank. But I suppose they didn't particularly approve of us being in the Middle East in the first place, so it cancels out. In fact, I was slightly nervous about it as well. The West Bank has been built up by the media into a dangerous word, loaded with bombings and warfare. The reality turned out to be quite different.
It could have been a complicated trip, but it turned out to be quite easy
We got out and observed the IDF's (Israeli Defense Force) masterpiece.
The Israeli's may refer to it as the security fence, but it's a wall. A very big, menacing wall, 8 meters high and dotted with towers and barbed wire. The Great Wall of Israel. 704km long, it slices right through the arteries connecting the two "countries," severing trade and communication. The IDF claims that it has reduced the number of terror attacks by 80%. The Palestinians claim that it is a shameless land grab, going well beyond the original boundaries set in the 1949 armistice. This was upheld by the UN, saying it violates international law.
To get through the checkpoint we had to pass through a series of metal gates, metal detectors, and armed Israeli guards. With our American passports the checks were only a formality. But others weren't so lucky. We passed through the wall and into Palestine. One of the more interesting aspects of the wall is the veritable museum of graffiti sprinkled across it's length
The Palestinians we met at the taxi stand didn't seem angry. They only wanted to sell us very expensive taxi tours. We got a trip into the main area of town to see the Church of the Nativity, where Jesus had been born.
I'm pretty sure that if you're concerned about how safe a certain area is, you should inquire as to whether package tours visit. Busloads of tourists don't go to dangerous places. By that standard, Bethlehem is very, very safe. So safe that the danger of being trampled by a busload of tourists is a distinct possibility.
After the experience of the wall, the Church of the Nativity was disappointing. I'm sure it would have been nice if we were the only ones in it. We lined up to visit the grotto where Jesus was born, and found ourselves sandwiched between two large and loud Italian tour groups. Each one of the pilgrims needed a picture of himself first kneeling, then kissing, the star on the floor
More peaceful was the Milk Grotto. There is a rather delightful legend that says that Mary was feeding Jesus in this cave when a drop of her milk fell on a rock. The rock turned white and the cave was the site of several miracles. So we visited the cave dedicated to Mary's lactation.
From there Elvis developed an insatiable need to see David's Well. This turned out to be a hole in the floor. We walked back to the checkpoint and were waved through. The map of Bethlehem I had showed Rachel's Tomb right up the street. But the street ended in the forbidding wall. They hadn't made a new map yet.
It was an interesting day.