Bethlehem: Behind the wall

Posted in 2012, Israel and Palestine by on May 23, 2012

Bethlehem Now and Then - O Little Town - Tryptych

During my visit to Jordan, Iraq, Israel and Palestine in March-April 2012, one of my most powerful moments came in visiting Bethlehem.

I stayed in Jerusalem towards the end of my stay in Israel, after having spent time in Tel Aviv, visiting the north around Zefat, the Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee, as well as staying in Mitzpe Ramon deep in the Negev desert.

From Jerusalem, one boards a local bus,#21, which goes to Bethlehem. Given its proximity to Jerusalem, Bethlehem is almost a suburb. When I initially arrived in Israel from Jordan, I had taken a bus to Jerusalem and then a collective taxi to Tel Aviv, I had barely noticed the “security wall”.

As far as I could tell, there were only Palestinians and a few western visitors on the bus.

After about fifteen minutes of driving a large bare wall could be seen to our left. At one point on the opposite side of the divided highway, now much closer to the wall, was an Israeli military checkpoint.

We continued a bit further , then backtracked slightly as we climbed a hill and started to enter the outskirts of Bethlehem. There were a couple of security related signs. One sign said something about Israelis not being allowed to enter under Israeli law, and another said something about it being illegal to hand documents over to Palestinian authorities. Then a series of signs saying “Welcome to Bethlehem..Welcome to Palestine.”

The bus deposited us on a busy street in the middle of town. On the bus I had met two American girls and a Korean guy, and we had decided to explore Bethlehem together. Shortly after we got off the bus, we were approached by a taxi driver who offered to show us the three highlights of Bethlehem, the Church of the Nativity, St. Catherine’s Church, the Milk Grotto Chapel and the Old Bethlehem Museum.

We negotiated a price with him and I asked if he could also show us some parts of the “security wall” and its famous graffiti. The driver was a loquacious Palestinian who decried what had been happening in recent years.

Visiting the wall was a humbling and rather disturbing experience. It is now more than twice the height of the Berlin Wall.

Revolutionary artwork is found in numerous places around Bethlehem, some by the famous anonymous British graffiti artist “Banksy”. Some of the more memorable include a dove of peace with an olive branch in its beak wearing a flak jacket with a sniper’s target on the vest, a soldier being patted down by an eight year old girl in a dress, and a blindfolded Palestinian being manhandled by two armed soldiers. The wall itself was also filled with various scrawled graffiti. “Small flowers crack concrete:” “Compassion not apartheid”. “Abort occupation”. “This is not security. This is shit.” “Facebook is exposing the truth like this.” We were also taken to a house which was surrounded on three sides by the wall.

Afterwards, we went to the Church of the Nativity and the Milk Grotto Chapel and we walked around viewing some beautiful paintings of the Nativity, the birth of Jesus in the manger, and other scenes taken from the Bible’s New Testament.

We later had lunch in town. In mid-afternoon, we boarded the bus to return to Jerusalem. This time we were checked by Israeli security at the checkpoint for about twenty minutes. As I got off the bus and started walking back to the old Walled City of Jerusalem, I felt a strong sense of sadness of what, two thousand years later, has now befallen the “O Little Town of Bethlehem”.

Bethlehem Now and Then - O Little Town - Tryptych

  • Without a doubt this is the best site of the nature that I have ever come across.

    Jaw-dropping images.

    Exceptional commentary.


    • At the moment Israel (excluding the territories) is quite safe. The only dangerous area right now is adjacent to Gaza, where Palestinians are lobbing rockets almost daily, but as a tourist you will not be anywhere near there unless you go significantly out of your way to find it. I never felt safe in the territories and some years ago when friends wanted to visit Bethlehem we booked a half day tour. (Groups of foreign tourists as a rule are not targeted by terrorists.) I agree with Londonminx, ask around when you are there, the locals will have up to date information about whether it’s safe to go.Masada is an absolute must see, but I don’t know if there is public transit to the site. I think your best bet may also be to book a day trip this can be arranged once you arrive in Israel. If you absolutely want to be independent (and I totally sympathize with the independent approach), you could arrange sherut/ taxi with some friends. Recently I felt very safe. There are no problems with public buses at present.

  • Israel has 300 nukes and wants to prevent Iran from deendfing itself. Iran has not attacked anyone. I hope Iran gets at least as many nukes as Israel has. I think what Israel is doing is horrible. The second amazing thing is how Rose Goetemoeller managed to turn every call that was critical of Israel into a condemnation of Iran. Goetemoeller did not say the word Israel one single time, in response to those questions; she DID manage to spin every reference to Israel into another reason why IRAN is a threat to whirled peas and must be treated with all options on the table. She endorsed Dennis Ross’s half-page op-ed in NYT that said MORE SANCTIONS ON IRAN please, it will work, the regime is starting to feel the pinch . . . Apparently the hasbara high command has been stressing their collective brain cells to come up with a counteroffensive to the Israel = apartheid South Africa; South Africa was taken down with boycotts; BDS Israel.’ Rose Goetemoeller rolled out a rationale for sanctioning Iran that I had not heard before: she said the when it became known that South Africa might be developing nukes, the world community became alarmed and rallied to impose constraints on South Africa’s economy. The strategy worked, South Africa de-nuked without the necessity of waging war. We hope the same thing will work with Iran. But, Mz Goetemoeller, what you did NOT relate is that ISRAEL WAS PARTICIPATING WITH S AFRICA in SA’s nuclear program!!Conclusions: 1. The people of the US are WAKING UP and SPEAKING OUT against Israel and the wild injustice of nuclear Israel threatening non-nuclear Iran.2. Goetemoeller is in the tank for Israel.3. Sadly sadly sadly, so is not only C Span, which we have realized for some time, but so is lovely Susan Swain, the moderator on today’s interview with Goetemoeller, who both led and followed Goetemoeller’s every dance step and pivot away from criticizing Israel and toward demonizing Iran.