Day 14 - Journey to The West Bank - Bethlehem

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Middle East » Israel » West Bank » Bethlehem
April 23rd 2018
Published: April 24th 2018
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Started off today at 7.45am for our day trip to Bethlehem which is situated in the West Bank. This is the area that DFAT on their Smart Traveler website has listed as "Reconsider your need to travel". I understand the reasons for this but we are so glad we went because we actually felt good that we were contributing in some small way to the Palestinians who live here under some difficult circumstances.

Before that however we had a couple of stops. First was a viewpoint overlooking the Mount of Olives where we had a marvelous view of Jerusalem and then a short drive to the Garden of Gethesame, where the Bible says Jesus and his disciples spent the night before the crucifixion. Next to the garden is the Church of All Nations, which is also known as the Basilica of the Agony. It enshrines a piece of bedrock which it is believed Jesus prayed before his crucifixion.

We then drove about 45 minutes to the West Bank and first stop was the Chapel of the Shepherd's Field which marks the place where angels announced the birth of Christ. The chapel had nice pictures depicting bible scenes and the area has ruins from an old Byzantine church and monastery. A nice touch was when a group of Filipino pilgrims came in and started singing.

Then we drove to the old section of Bethlehem around 10:30am. We walked over to the Church of The Nativity which contains a cave where Jesus is said to have been born. We joined the line to see this but Mahdi enquired and was told it would be about a 2 hour wait. He gave us the option to not wait in line but he could show us the side of the cave instead. As it turned out, Slade was the only one who was prepared to wait, so we all agreed to let Slade wait in line whilst Mahdi took the rest of us to see other things in Bethlehem. Then we all went to basically the exit of the room which had the cave, where all the pilgrims came out and we could see inside a small section and whilst I was taking photos, Slade suddenly appeared out of the exit. The story goes that whilst he was waiting, a man was going through the crowd asking if anyone was on their own, so he said he was, and the man said, “Please follow me”. He was then asked to help an elderly lady who had a surgical boot on. Mahdi saw him and asked, “What are you doing?” and when Slade told him what had happened he said, ”OK, just pretend the lady is your mother” and then he and the lady (also from USA) were led straight into the cave. A stranger even asked if he would like a photo with his mother which was funny. So it ended up perfectly. We all said it was “Divine Intervention”.

Mahdi then took us for a walk through the old town market when we saw Juliette suddenly take out a balloon and make a balloon animal for a small Palestinian boy with his mother looking on, which was lovely. Apparently, she had been doing that through the previous tours. We then had free time for lunch and shopping. After lunch I was walking down by myself as Daisy had gone off shopping and a young man approached me from a shop. I thought he was just trying to get me to buy something, but he actually said he liked my trousers (convertible long/short pants from Aldi) and he wanted me to send him a pair. I said I couldn’t because they are not always available, but I told him I would take a photo of him and email it to him which I have.

We then all got back in the bus and headed off to the Graffiti Wall. This section of the West Bank wall has been decorated with art work and graffiti protesting the building of the wall. All organized by the famous artist and activist, Banksy. There is a Banksy museum next to the “Walled-Off Hotel” and we all went in. Besides artwork, there are also displays, videos and information about the building of the wall and the struggles of the Palestinians.

We then had time to walk along one section of the wall which was very interesting. Along the way a young boy selling flutes asked me to take his picture which I did with the wall behind him. He asked to have a look and when I showed him, he gave me a flute for free. I tried to give it back to him, but he insisted I keep it and did not want any money from me. Again, I said I would send him the photo but he just gave me his FB name and sadly, I haven’t been able to find him. My next encounter was a man who explained that he had been in prison for 5 years and had just been released and he asked if I would buy an orange juice off him to help as he had a young son with him also. I didn’t know how true his story was, but I told him I would get one off him when I returned, and he had one ready for me when I did return. It cost 10NIS which was the going price, so it wasn’t a rip-off and the juice was very nice plus I needed a drink then as well. I continued and met up with the others on time.

On our journey back, Daisy and I decided to ask if we could be dropped off at the Old City and Pierre joined us as well while the others continued onto the hotel. We ended up back at the Church of The Holy Sepulchre and it was no where as busy, and we looked around some more, just before another Armenian Mass was about to start and we continued on along the Via Delarosa again on our way back to the Hotel where we had dinner with Ina and Annie. Chatted until around 9pm.

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