Door of Humility
Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem
Hello my fellow travellers!
This is the second and final post I'll do about my trip to Israel and Palestine in July 2000. The last post covered my time in Israel while this post covers my time in Palestine.
We didn't (as far as I remember) venture into the Gaza Strip but we did go to the West Bank to visit Bethlehem and Wadi Qelt. Ownership of this area is complicated to say the least, as it is for the whole region. Nominally the West Bank is under control of the Palestinian Authorities but it's still occupied by Israel for safety reasons. There is much that can be said for both parties but I personally do understand Israel's concern. After all, when they released control completely of the Gaza strip in 1995 all they really got in return was missile attacks launched from the Gaza strip. I reckon they are worried a similar outcome might happen if they withdraw from the West Bank.
Also an effect of the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza strip was a collapse of the infrastructure as it came under the governorship of Hamas and the Palestinian civilians living there now suffer worse than
Mosque of Omar, Bethlehem
they did under Israel. A similar outcome might be expected in the West Bank as Hamas doesn't really have any deep interest in governing Palestine to the benefit of the Palestinian people as much as it seeks the destruction of Israel at this point in time. Still, it would be for the best if a complete two state solution could happen and the region could finally find lasting peace.
Just as Jerusalem, Bethlehem has a rich history and is an important place for the Abrahamic Religions, as this is the birthplace of Jesus. The site is commemorated with the Church of the Nativity built in 327 by Constantine the Great. Across the square from the Church of the Nativity is the Mosque of Omar, the only mosque in Bethlehem, built in 1860 to commemorate Caliph Umar's visit to Bethlehem.
Wall-in-wall with the Church of the Nativity is the Church of St Catherine which stands on top of the Cave of St Jerome where St Jerome spent 30 years writing the Vulgate which was the dominant Latin bible all the way up until the Reformation.
All these religious sights are beautiful and their historic and cultural significance commands
respect. While I was in Bethlehem I also came upon a Palestinian protest. I don't remember the reason but I suspect it might have been in response to Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount that sparked the Al-Aqsa Intifada. Again, it's such a shame that this place can't seem to find peace.
While we were in Bethlehem we also visited the Bethlehem University and got a nice tour of it by some of it's students, it was interesting to see their higher education up close.
We also decided to visit the Good Shepherd's Swedish School which is run by the Swedish Jerusalem Society with the aid of Swedish government aid programme SIDA. The society was formed in 1900 after a Swedish Bishop visited Jerusalem and saw the social poverty.
The society has since then focused on education, primarily for girls, and health care in the region. Their schools have been repeatedly demolished in the turmoil of the wars fought here. The current school has been operating under the society since 1959 and it currently has around 400 students. It was nice to see up close how Swedish aid is being used (because we spend a fair
St George's Monastery, Wadi Qelt
amount of our BNP on foreign aid) and to see how some dedicated individuals strive to make the world a better place.
I also went to the Wadi Qelt which is a valley that stretches up to Jericho, inside the valley are St George's Monastery and the Wadi Qelt Synagogue. This place has also known it's share of modern horrors as just a couple of years before our visit several Israeli hikers were killed here by Palestinian terrorists.
As I said in the other part, just after our visit the fighting erupted anew and I still remember watching the news from home with pain in my chest at the thought of all people I've come to know there. I hope with all my heart for a lasting peace and a sustainable two state solution that will benefit everyone.
Until next time I wish you all peace and happy travels!
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