Sunday, September 23, 2012

Little Town of Bethlehem

This wasn't what I was expecting to see when I arrived in the "little town of Bethlehem."

The separation barrier between the West Bank and Jerusalem

And this wasn't what I expected to be doing.

Sara leaving her own graffiti mark on the separation wall in the West Bank: Peace

There are at least two sides to every story and during our day in the West Bank we certainly heard another side to the Israeli/Palestinian story.

We were told that Bethlehem, which is entirely within the West Bank, is divided into three different sections with one policed by Israelis, one policed by Palestinians and one that is sandwiched in between the two.  Our day was divided much the same.  We spent the morning in the Aida refugee camp for Palestinians who were displaced in 1948.  They have spent more than 60 years living in a a community that is too small, that lacks jobs for most of its residents, and that has recently experienced severe water shortages. 

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

Then we made a stop at the Church of the Nativity, the traditional site of the birth of Jesus.  The church was full of Russian and Ukrainian tourists who had arrived by bus for just a quick visit.  The area surrounding the church looks much like all of the other churches we have visited in Israel.  I think that to many of the tourists in Bethlehem, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict would be almost completely invisible.

While inside the church it was hard not to feel sadness -- sadness that this is what has become of the "little town of Bethlehem" with so much division and conflict in the area.

The shrine at the traditional site of the birth of Jesus below the church

After visiting the church we visited the farm of a man whose family has lived in a valley outside of Bethlehem for generations.  The Israeli government has spent the last decade trying to buy the land, but he won't sell.  Now the separation wall is being built in such a way that he soon won't have access to his land any longer.  He says he isn't leaving.

At the home of the Palestinian man who won't sell his land

This week we have met really good people on both sides of the wall.  Many have their own ideas of the solution, but I am sot sure any of them are confident that peace will be coming anytime soon.

Graffiti by the artist Banksy in the West Bank

Throw flowers, not grenades!


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