Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Welcome to Bethlehem

We headed off to Bethlehem on Day nine. The Welchs came with us. The first sign that this might be a little, um...different, than the other days was the fact that we followed a UN vehicle to the border of this Palestinian territory we know and love as the "Little Town of Bethlehem." 

Next, we were welcomed by this art...

When we passed through the border, we were met by a friendly Palestinian man, who Stewart decided to trust as our tour guide for the day.  Hey, why not hire the first smiling Palestinian face you see?  As it were, this man was a Palestinian Christian.  He reminded us several times throughout the day that, "In Palestine, there is 50% Muslim, 50% Christian.  There are NO JEWS!"  I suppose that if I were living in a Palestinian state, I would probably not be too terribly happy with Israel, either.  

First, he took us to a part of town to explain to us how the lines that were drawn have been encroached on by Israel, redefined due to the need to access spiritual locations.  The domed church in the background had something to do with Rachel's tomb.  I admit, I wasn't really paying attention because Elizabeth stayed back in the car with sleeping little Will, and I'll be real here: I didn't feel safe, and I was pretty sure Elizabeth and Will were about to be the next victims of a Palestinian brawl.

Again, this key had something to do with the Pope's visit to Bethlehem, but I was too scared to pay attention to the significance of it.

On to Jewish Settlements...(as I understand them).
See the apartment looking buildings in the background of this picture?  Yes.  That is a "Jewish Settlement."  It is WITHIN Palestinian Territory.  Israel decided to encroach on Palestine and "choke it out" by building and settling it with Jews imported from Europe.  As I understand it, these Jews are paid by Israel to live in these settlements.  Then, Israel "redefined" the border by building a road and an electric fence to keep the Palestinians "in Palestine."  To Israel's defense, they believe that "It is ALL Israel" to begin with, so they are simply reclaiming their God given land.

One of those steeples in the picture is the supposed place where the Lamb of God was born.

The hill in the background is where Herod's Temple once stood.  The ruins in the foreground are where Herod's "house" would have been.  There was a secret escape for Herod to get from the top of the mountain down to his house.

Here's little Lydia, Stewart and Elizabeth's daughter, on top of the mountain where Herod's Temple once stood.

A replica of Herod's Temple.

The view from the top was amazing!  The sweet, easy breeze of the blossoming olive trees below was a sweet, sweet smell!

One of Bethlehem's only means of monetary gain are their olive products.  They make and sell olive wood sculptures and try to export their olive oil.

Our new Palestinian friend took us to a fantastic restaurant for lunch, where he ordered what seemed to be "one of everything" on the entire menu!  

Here we are at the entrance to the church that is positioned where Jesus was born.

Such holy sites...
such tension!

I've never been so happy to see that sweet Star of David before in my LIFE!  We had made plans to go to Jericho that day, too, but when Stewart called back to Elizabeth and I in the back seat, "So, are we off to Jericho now?"  Elizabeth and I replied in unison, "NO!"  We didn't realize that there was a low level of stress and anxiety associated with our day trip to Bethlehem.  It could have been the fact that our "tour guide" was traveling at an extraordinary rate on foot, looking over his shoulder and around every corner before we got there.  I even think he paid someone to guard our car one time!  Maybe it was the fact that when school got out, the kids started throwing rocks at our car.  Or, it could have been the many,  many "death stares" shot our way throughout the corse of the day.  Then again, I may be overthinking it all...nevertheless, I was HAPPY to be back in Israel!

We all decided that we needed to "decompress" by going to the Garden Tomb, which turned out to be a great ending to a "stressful" day, and I have since learned from Elizabeth that there is a side to Bethlehem that is "softer," whatever that means!  I was totally impressed that she actually returned!