Palestine? Bethlehem!

Hello Dear Readers!

Picking up where I left off yesterday, we made our way from Ramallah straight to Bethlehem. Upon arriving, we stopped off for lunch, enjoying some Arabic food in the main square before heading to the Nativity Church, which is apparently the second holiest place for Christians (right behind the Church of the Holy Sepulchre).

The entrance is actually pretty neat.

This is the humble door, so called because it forces you to bow as you walk in:

 

The church has been undergoing extensive renovations for years, and will continue to do so until 2019.

An interesting fact, the Nativity Church is in fact inhabited by three separate churches. The Greek Orthodox Church has a home here, as does the Armenian Orthodox Church, and the Catholic Church. All three maintain the Church and all three have a separate place of worship within the confines of the building.

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Catholic section

And here’s a short video of the other two:

Now here’s what you’ve all been eagerly waiting for.

Since the birth of Christ was so long ago, the ground level has been steadily rising, so much so that in order to get to the spot, you have to descend an entire staircase. The entire outside of it is covered in paintings and art.

 

It takes you into a stifling room, crowded and hot, where on one side you can kneel and touch the place where Jesus was apparently born, and on the other view the place where the original manger lay.

Even though I’m not religious by any stretch of the imagination, this was a really excellent experience. It’s awe-inspiring, really, to see such a place in person.

 

After the church we again walked through the streets, culminating in a journey through one of the refugee camps built by the UN and a stroll by the separation wall, which is covered in all kinds of different graffiti/ artwork.

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For those of you who don’t know, Banksy, the famous artist, has come out to Bethlehem a number of times to paint and protest the separation wall and the Israeli state. He’s even opened his own hotel in Bethlehem, in which he’s hand-painted most of the walls and maintains a small museum. It’s a really neat place to visit, especially as he’s so well-known throughout the rest of the world.

Ok, now here is where things got a little squirrelly. As part of the tour, we were promised “a real experience in the life of a Palestinian having to cross the border and go through checkpoints.”

I mean that’s cool and all, I don’t mind checkpoints.

What I did mind, however, was learning that my way back, taking a public bus back to Jerusalem from the border, was to be accomplished alone, which was exactly opposite of the point of me signing up for a group tour.

The German family were going back to Tel Aviv, so they were picked up in a shuttle right outside the gate.

In contrast, I waited at the Banksy hotel for our tour guide to come back and escort me to the entrance of the checkpoint, at which point he clapped me on the shoulder, told me to look for a blue and white bus, and bid me adieu.

What in the actual f***.

To my eternal gratitude, another guy happened to be walking through the checkpoint, so he volunteered to show me through, which is excellent because how am I supposed to figure out a random border crossing in the middle of Israel?

It turned out the guy was also heading to Jerusalem, to Jaffa gate (my stop), and so he actually showed me the entire way back. Chatting, I learned that he was a Palestinian volunteering at a joint Israeli/Palestinian peace organization, working to create better relations between the two. He spoke excellent English and I ended up having a very pleasant time on the way back to Jerusalem.

Thank God. That could have gone so wrong.

-Carissa “Checkpointed” Rawson

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