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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Bethlehem, Hebron and Walls

This is what it might look like if Jesus were born today,
a wall separating the shepherds from the manger.

On my third day in the Holy Land I took a Green Olive Tour which is an alternative tour group that works with the  Palestinian Lutheran Church.  We took a bus through the checkpoints to Bethlehem where our first stop was the wall that divides Palestine from Israel.  We walked along the wall and looked at the images (some by the famed graffiti artist, Banksy) and tried to understand how complicated these walls make life in this region.  We were told that when outsiders come for a day, they feel they can write a book about the situation, after a week, they can write an article, after a month, they can maybe write a sentence, and after longer than that they realize there is really no way to explain it.  Walls, checkpoints, armed guards, that's what the Little Town of Bethlehem has to deal with today.

I'm no Banksy, but I left my mark on the Wall
This is in a  Palestinian Refugee Camp where
a second generation of children are
growing up as refugees in their own country.

We continued from the wall to Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity. This church was originally commissioned  in 327 AD by Constantine and his mother, Helena and built over the birthplace of Jesus.  
Inside the Church of the Nativity

The Door of Humility is the Main Entrance
to the Church of the Nativity
This is believed to be over the place the manger was located.
Icon of Mary and Jesus

I got to touch the place under the altar that is believed
 to be over the spot Jesus was born.  

Another view of the inside the Church of the Nativity

We went down into the Grotto of the Nativity to the  location of Jesus' birth and the location of the manger where he was laid.    Entering into the cave and placing my hands on these holy sites was very moving experience.  I've always known these were real places, but it still seemed like stepping into a beloved storybook, but in this case the book was the Bible.

Our next stop was the city of Hebron.  Hebron is especially confusing, as there are Israeli settlements around and even above the Palestinian city.  Our guide was a Christian Palestinian, and he wasn't allowed to walk down many of the streets we could walk down as tourists.   The Palestinian areas are pretty depressing.   There was one area where the wall cut 3 families off from the rest of the town.  There is almost no way for these families to make money, but one thing they can do is cook for tourists.  We had a very nice lunch in one of the homes there while talking to family members about their experiences living inside the wall.  They told us how their children had been attacked on the way to school and how there is little hope for the future as things are now.  They are cut off from their relatives and their family farms and ancestral homes.  I asked one young man if Israelis and Palestinians ever married one another and he said he had been in love with an Israeli girl, but her father was a rabbi who would not allow her to marry him.  They explained to us how they are prisoners in their own homes and told us that there are more soldiers than settlers that the soldiers are guarding.  It was interesting to get this side of the story--so interesting that I forgot to take photos, unfortunately.

There is an Israeli settlement above this Palestinian street,
so nets are strung across the top of the  road to prevent the
settlers from throwing things into the street. 
Guards at Checkpoint

All in all, this was such a day of contradictions--visiting the birthplace of the Prince of Peace in an area that hasn't known peace in such a long time.  Or perhaps it's not a contradiction at all, as Jesus and His family left Bethlehem as refugees too when they heard from the Wise Men that King Herod wanted to find the newborn king.   

 ♪ ♪ Oh little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie,
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep,
The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth,
The everlasting Light,
The hopes and fears of all the years,
Are met in thee tonight.  ♪  ♪

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