Palestine – Bethlehem

While staying in Jerusalem, I took the opportunity to visit the not so little town of Bethlehem only a 45 minute bus ride away in Palestine. This turned out to be my cheapest day in a while, as it turns out there aren’t only 3 religions present in Jerusalem.

On my morning walk to worship the god of coffee, I came across a Sikh community serving langar in a corner of the old city. Everyone was very welcoming, and despite feeling a little out of place I enjoyed my free breakfast sitting on these stone steps.

There were two tables set up in that corner! 

I think that mistrust can come from ignorance, because as I passed by the first time someone invited me to have some food and I politely declined. Nothing is free right? Thinking back to what my friend Dalip and his family taught me in England, I realized that they were Sikhs serving langar, and I decided to return. The food was excellent, and when they saw a confused looking white guy in line they set me up with food and drink pretty quickly. Good start to the day!

Getting to Bethlehem was quite easy. There is an Arab bus station outside the Damascus gate with buses to the West Bank, and I was able to find the bus numbers online without any issues.

 

The first place I intended to go was Rachel’s Tomb, but soon found that I was on the wrong side of the wall for that.

This is the famous wall separating Palestinians from what is considered occupied Palestine on the other side. I heard stories from fellow travelers at my hostel about them getting tear gassed when visiting, but I have a feeling they weren’t being quite as careful as they could’ve been. Anyways, this is the wall partly known for its Banksy art, including the man throwing flowers like a grenade. I didn’t see that one because it would have required a bit of driving, but I still found a few.

Imagine growing up next to this wall as a Palestinian, knowing that the people on the other side want you kept out. 

Determining that I wouldn’t be getting around the wall to Rachel’s Tomb very easily, I instead began walking into town.

The main attraction here is the Church of Nativity, the birthplace of Jesus.

It’s a little under construction, but I thought it was worth the visit. On the way in I was about to walk through the door when a security guard put his hand up in front of me. He just asked me where I was from and welcomed me to the church, but it was strange. He was incredibly nice, both in his smile and the way he spoke, but then he looked like he could throw me back into Jerusalem from there, so I was confused at first. 

The upper part of the church is also under construction, but the most important part was down some stairs.

This is where Jesus was born.

Considering the enormous influence Jesus and Christianity have had on the world, it was very interesting to see the place where it began.

Across the square from the church is the Mosque of Omar. I walked in and a guy around my age decided to give me a tour, so I got to meet a Palestinian and see the views from the top floor of the mosque, (not the minaret).

I then walked to the Milk Grotto Church, which is associated with the Virgin Mary.

I was a little surprised with how few tourists there were. I was told that tourism had been down lately due to the heightened tensions, and in Bethlehem I only saw one visor wearing tourist pack. 

Like Jerusalem, some streets felt abandoned and others you could barely find space to walk.

As a tourist, I think that Palestine is far safer than what we are lead to believe. Given more time I would have happily visited Jericho and Ramallah, but instead focused on Jerusalem. Palestine has a lot to offer, so if you plan on visiting Jerusalem any time soon, I’d recommend a day trip or two to see what life is like here.

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