trip: Jerusalem to Bethlehem, Bethlehem to Hebron
how: by shared taxi (Sherut)
miles total: 4758, 4778 (return to Jerusalem 4804)
When we went to tourist information before we left this morning they warned us about going to Bethlehem because of the Fatah conference that was being held there this weekend. However, we had no choice because we were limited on days, so we went. It was fine. Fatah, if you didn’t know, is a major Palestinian political party and the largest sector of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). It was the first meeting in 20 years and the first on Palestinian soil, so a pretty big deal.
In order to get to Bethlehem we took a sherut that dropped us off at the Israeli side of the wall, then we passed through like a customs area and then entered into the Palestinian Territories. It’s like a whole different world. Palestine is more like the Middle East, with a little more grunge and a whole lot more character. Bethlehem in general is very small and most people come here just to see the church where they believe Jesus was born. This is why we came here too, but we also wanted to go to Hebron which is a little further south.
The tightened security because of the Fatah meeting was present and we couldn’t help but notice all the snipers on the rooftops and the tanks rolling around. However, as a tourist I didn’t feel in danger. The security was to protect the people in the conference, and in general if you mind your own business it’s hard to feel threatened at all. However, because of the security we had some issues getting into the city and our taxi driver said he must drop us off outside of the city, but still insisted we paid the same amount as if he would have taken us to the center. We refused, and he decided to argue, accusing us of treating him like this because he was Palestinian. We were appalled, we paid him the correct amount and went to the tourist police, where we complained. The Palestinian police officer who helped us was very kind and thanked us for coming and telling him about this. Apparently, they have problems with the taxi drivers and he was more than apologetic when we told him of our experience.
He then proceeded to tell us a more than unpleasant encounter with Israeli soldiers over coffee. The five of us listened to his story of when his wife was pregnant with their son and she had to be rushed to the hospital. The Israeli soldiers had stopped them at a checkpoint and asked him to step outside of the ambulance while they spoke to his wife. He refused and the Israeli soldiers threatened him, until another soldier came and told them to just let him and his wife go. He said since then he would never stop to fight for Palestine’s freedom. He said he didn’t want violence, he just wants to live in peace and with freedom. However, the last thing he said to us is what stuck with me, “Palestine is too weak to ever have it’s own freedom so we must not think we can do this alone,” he continued to say, “this is why we want people to come here… we want people to see that we are not bad people, we just want to live with our own freedom and we need their support and their government support.”
We left Bethlehem after this and headed to Hebron.
Hebron is the biggest city in the West Bank and is not only holy for Christians and Muslims, but also said to be the second holiest city in Judaism, after Jerusalem. Unfortunately, this results in Hebron being a city in constant unrest. In recent years the Jewish settlements and Palestinians in and around Hebron have been the victims of much violence and disruption. All of this disruption has left the old city of Hebron a ghost town. This ghost town borders the Jewish settlements and high-security zone. There have been so many problems here over the past ten years that most Palestinians living in the old city have moved out and closed up there stalls. Furthermore, as you walk through these streets you have a type of wire netting above you that has been places there to protect the people walking from things been thrown (ex. rocks, liquids, glass, trash). We crossed into the Jewish settlement in order to go to the Al-Ibrahimi Mosque and the Cave of the Patriarchs. Here is where Jews, Christians,and Muslims all have some ties believing that this site is the burial site of four biblical couples, Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah.
Some of you may know that the mosque was subject to a horrific incident in 1994 when a Jewish extremist entered the mosque killing 29 Muslims and injuring more than 100 more during Ramadan. This incident has inevitably caused the area to be a high security zone. It’s a strange feeling when entering into this mosque knowing that this happened here. You feel embarrassed and ashamed, but more than this I felt sad. Not all Jewish people want this sort of violence, but unfortunately this kind of attack leads some people to believe that they do. We met some very kind Palestinians here who told us the history of the Mosque explaining the importance of Abraham in Islam. After this mosque we went to the other side of the building, which is the synagogue. Another strange thing happened as we entered into the Synagogue, we entered listening to the call of prayer from the mosque.
We caught the bus back to Jerusalem and slept there the night before we got our car the next morning.
Full of thoughts.