Merry Christmas everyone. I was in Bethlehem two weeks ago. It’s is a pleasant town with friendly people, and as usual I wandered aimlessly with a GPS unit in hand looking for interesting situations, exploring and chatting with locals.
Bethlehem’s big attraction is the , built over the supposed site where Jesus Christ was born. It’s quite interesting to see it and well worth sparing an hour from your schedule. However, there is a new structure that has had a far greater impact on the people of Bethlehem in only a decade than the church has had for 1,700 years.
And that structure is the separation barrier:
On either the Israeli and Palestinian sides, you don’t need to be too far away from the barrier to slip back into an illusion of normality. But anything that seems normal to you collapses when you first see this thing. These images give an idea of what it’s like crossing into Bethlehem:
As stark and bleak the barrier and ruin around it is, a wall is just a wall and can’t tell story. People do. I met and spoke with a dozen or so locals, but two stories stood out to me.
Ala’a: the taxi driver and tour guide
On the edge of town approaching the checkpoint, I met Ala’a. Like many in Bethlehem, he is a taxi driver and tour guide. He told me of how much the price of fuel has increased in recent years of the occupation. It is so expensive that he spends all day driving and looking for customers in order to pay for the fuel that he needs to drive all day to look for these customers.
He insisted I take his picture against the wall when he learned I’d be writing about my experience with locals in the West Bank. He is a very genuine person and unfortunately I met him near sunset. When I go back to Bethlehem, I will contact him for a tour of the surrounding areas. If you’re going there, you can reach him email@example.com.
“Maria”: the souvenir shop owner
At one point I followed the wall into a dead end, in which a four-story building sat surrounded by the wall on three sides. I met Maria (name changed for confidentiality) who owned the building and the shop at street level. She invited me inside and told me her story. Ten years ago the Israeli government built the wall, bisecting the main road to Jerusalem opposite her building. Her family’s other two properties were lost to the now Israeli side. She showed me on the street that used to be in front of us. It was hard hearing her speak of him in the past tense. I didn’t ask why.
She did not want her portrait taken, but allowed me to take one of her back:
As I said, walls alone can’t tell the whole story. But people can use walls to tell their stories. Graffiti, to me, is most interesting when it has a message. And there is plenty of that, enough to keep me looking at the messages for hours. I even stumbled across the that you’ve probably seen.
The separation barrier is a living, evolving protest piece. It’s fascinating. Here’s a bit of what I saw:
Fortunately, there’s much more to Bethlehem than this barrier and the church. To see what I mean, check out my Bethlehem gallery.