July 18, 2008

Bethlehem, Palestine

In Jerusalem I was lucky to make a fast friendship with four other fabulous traveler’s who were as confused about the sporadic open and close times of the sights as I was. We decided to head out on a day when it seemed most things were closed (we think) and try an entrance into Bethlehem to see the Church of the Nativity, the barn where Jesus was supposedly born. A very short distance by car, we all piled in and made it to the imposing border in ten minutes where the high wall caging the city and it’s people on land they once roamed free can be seen stretched over the hillside like a scar. This border was not easy like Jericho with a few questions and a hand wave; this was an organized security maze of entrances, exits, passport control and metal detectors. We were able to pass without any trouble other than the feeling of sadness that people on all sides are living in an environment encased in fear, resentment, and anger.
At first sight, you are confronted with the towering cement borders of the designated land and the Palestinians have treated this wall as people from all over the world have done in the past; expressing themselves with spray-painted art and political messages – the famous JFK quote “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” and a Bansky mural among them. Having to walk through this section to get to the main part of the city was, again, heartbreaking with it’s obvious lack of funding.
Keeping in the vain of struggle, we struggled about 5 kilometers in the heat, up a hill, toward the church where Mary struggled to keep Jesus from the same fate as the rest of the young boys in Bethlehem at the time – sure death. The Church of the Nativity has been one of my favorite’s so far, not just for the significant history, but for it’s elegant simplicity; muted, marble columns line the nave of high, rustic, barn-like ceilings with windows streaming in light on the preserved frescoes and highlighted floor mosaic. The Orthodox alter is dripping with lanterns of different colors and the surrounding walls display an impressive collection of interesting Orthodox religious icons. There are obviously many tourists and to see the spot where baby Jesus had his crib in the original barn beneath the present structure, everyone must bend through a small opening and walk down the stairs into a dark, candlelit, devoutly energized space where, much like the pilgrims at the top of Mt. Sinai, break into song and give the place a feeling of Christmas day over two thousand years ago (minus all the video and photo cameras).
On the way out through the winding fences of inclusion and exclusion under the watchful eyes of machine guns after just visiting the place where Jesus was hidden from a King Herod initiated genocide, I was scanning the millennium for some sort of progress on the “live and let live” frontier and, unfortunately, came up short. I wonder how many more thousand’s of years must past before we try the novel idea of learning from history and start playing nice in the sandbox.

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