Tag Archives: Palestine

O Jailed Town of Bethlehem

I’m sitting in an apartment in the Nachalat Binyamin area of Tel Aviv; about ten minutes from the Mediterranean Sea and next door to the Shuk Ha’Carmel market. Every day I venture out on my own to an area that pulls on me. That may not seem like a big deal except I’m directionally dysfunctional so it’s a great challenge for me to wander off on my own. Sometimes I feel as if I have to go faster and see more. There’s so much to see in this world and I want to see it all. I started traveling decades ago and haven’t slowed down. As I get older I want to see more not less because every inhale is a gift and I’m acutely aware of the gift of my breath.

Israel; a country bordered by Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. I feel very safe. Fear doesn’t enter into my vocabulary whether traveling or at home. Actually the sight of soldiers carrying weapons has the opposite effect on me. It quells the fear that instinctively rises inside of me so that I can continue on my adventure feeling both protected and secure.

I seem to be concentrating on The West Bank area of Israel namely Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Jericho. Bethlehem is not heavily traveled so I am pulled there. Not only is it of the burial place of matriarch Rachel but it’s also the birthplace of Jesus. It’s often ripe with strife which attracts me as well. My relatives with Israeli passports cannot visit there as Israeli civilians are not allowed access. Later they told me they were worried about me when I was traveling there for the day.

Bethlehem is a Palestinian city that is about five miles from Jerusalem. It took quite a bit to cross in to get in.  First the line where I showed my passport and went through xrays not too different from an airport. They have built a wall that consists of fences over miles (including electrified fencing), buffer zones, deep six foot trenches, barbed wires, electric sensors, thermal imaging, video cameras, sniper towers, razor wire, unmanned aerial vehicle; a 26-32 foot high wall. Keeping certain people out. From the center of Bethlehem, you can see the path that prevents certain people from entering. This wall, which serves to isolate and annex the religious areas,  reminds me of the prejudice against the Jews during WW2. This wall isn’t really a fence or a wall, it’s meant to be a separation barrier. The obvious historical parallel is the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall was 96 miles long. This wall will be 403 miles when complete and does nothing but violate human rights.  I’ve read that the Israeli authorities say it is meant to block the passage of terrorists including weapons, and explosives.

Initially I thought “this is barbaric.” Upon researching I found that 900 people died from suicide attacks since Sept 2000. The wall was started in the Spring of 2002 and there has been a sharp decline in violent attacks. The threat of violence is all too real. My friend and writing teacher and her Israeli-born husband agreed not to ride on any buses with their daughters on their recent visit. Speaking to my hair dresser, an Israeli who moved to the U.S., I began to see it from a native’s perspective. There are less senseless violent acts like blowing up buses since the wall has been erected. So there is no easy answer. There is no right or wrong. There is no logic. But a city sealed off from the rest of the world just doesn’t sit right with me. I begin to feel sad about this realization and fact of life in Israel. Even this quote from the ruling of the International Court of Justice on the issue of the wall constructed by Israel feels as if I’m not alone in this thinking.
“Israel cannot rely on a right of self-defense or on a state of necessity in order to preclude the wrongfulness of the construction of the wall.” – International Court of Justice

Bethlehem has severe unemployment; around 65%. Hence a lot of fighting between husband and wife because the man at home is never a good scenario. Back in 1999, 2000 there would be 5,000 tourists a day. Now it’s dozens. “Keep with people” my uncle told me before I left which of course, I didn’t. I like to go off on my own to explore people with my camera.

I was on a mission to visit The Church of Nativity as I lean towards places of worship.  From the moment I had to bend down to enter through the “Door of Humility”; I was humbled. There are legends surrounding the door. Some say that the door was installed by the Muslims during their rule to remind Christians that they were guests in the country and must bow to their hosts.I love that; bowing.We’re not a bowing culture. The act of humbling oneself  to the soul of another person. A most gracious way of honoring God in another person. An alternative explanation is that the height of the door was designed to prevent nonbelievers from entering the church on horseback. Yet another version holds that it was to protect the Christians from their hostile neighbors.  Just to see the Corinthian columns alone was worth all the angst the wall originally brought up for me; pillars of orange, yellow and brown reaching fifty feet toward heaven; an elaborate illumination of lamps throughout.

The Grotto of the Nativity is an underground cave where Jesus is said to have been born. The exact spot is marked beneath an altar by a 14-pointed silver star set into the marble floor and surrounded by silver lamps. Yet there was a heaviness in my heart. I couldn’t help but think about the wall separating people. A wall surely can’t be the solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The sweet little city where the Bible says Jesus was born is surrounded by a 3-story concrete wall topped with razor wire.

I noticed two women with a child that caught my eye so I followed them to an area I had already seen just so I could watch them. Even though we were from two worlds, we were interested in the Church of Nativity. The sadness I felt from Bethlehem being annexed eased into acceptance of what is. As I watched them I was struck with how much we are all the same; wanting to explore our world. They too went through what I went through to view this glorious site. We have an innate desire to see and understand the beauty all around us. As Yogi Bhajan shared with us in the sutras of the Aquarian Age: Recognize The Other Person Is You.

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