It was about time to ramp up a travel blog for this excursion! Over a week and a half after starting out in NYC, I at first had made peace with the notion that I would not blog this trip. But, we are simply learning and experiencing too much to not share the wealth with whomever might be interested. So I'll start with the current day and perhaps fill in the gaps later...?
Yesterday (the 21st) a group of us took off from JUC for Bethlehem. We used the (newer) bus station across the street from Damascus Gate, which kind of kicked me into nostalgia mode since it was where a friend of mine and I found a hotel when I was here last. The public bus took us to the checkpoint for the West Bank separation wall, at which point we walked across and eventually into Bethlehem.
Our guide for the afternoon took us around the town and some surrounding neighbourhoods. Of most interest was the newly fortified wall separating the West Bank from the remainder of Israel - as a Palestinian Christian, our guide unashamedly took the stance that the Wall was a crime against the Palestinian
people and really was little more than a thinly-veiled excuse for the Israeli government to quietly force the Palestinians out of the land. Of course there are 2 sides to every story, so although some members of our group were put off by his hard-line stance, I was thankful for the perspective. The residents of Bethlehem certainly are affected in their day-to-day life by the wall, regardless of where one falls on the political spectrum.
After this, we arrived at Bethlehem Bible College where we learned more about the theology of the Israeli/Palestinian controversy from another Palestinian Christian, this one a PhD. He did a great job of providing an overview of the different viewpoints today.
Finally, the day ended with an unbelievable meal at a restaurant called The Grotto. It had tables of 8 at which we were served hummus, lamb, and an absurd amount of meats and vegetables. While we ate, the locals coming home from work filtered in to socialize and smoke the nargilah (hookah).
Sorry if this post is somewhat straightforward and devoid of wit, but we had a very full and fascinating day today in the Shephelah and Coastal Plain regions of
Israel, which (thankfully for you) will have to wait until I have more time and am slightly more coherent. Shalom!
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