Saturday, 7 April 2012

Israel and Palestinian Territories 4

Whilst being in Jerusalem, and having a flying visit through Nablus, we never really got a picture of how the Palestinian-Israeli conflict had affected those on the other side of the wall. On the fifth day (which was New Year's Eve) we went to Bethlehem and we got an opportunity to find out about the oppression the Palestinians face.

We take the bus trip to Bethlehem and when we get out at the stop we get pounced on by about six taxi drivers all trying to get us in their cars. After a bit of haggling, we got in one taxi (much to the chagrin of another taxi driver who felt we had been stolen from him) and drove to Herodion. It is a town with a fortified palace atop a hill built by Herod the Great. The most interesting bit was the huge water cisterns dug into the hill, that were later used by Jewish rebels during the Bar Kokhba revolt.

Herod's Palace

Before returning to Bethlehem my father decided he wanted to look around Lower Herodion, the archaeological site at the foot of the hill.  Suddenly a gang of children seemed to spring from the earth and begin begging us for money, frustrating photo opportunities.

We were driven to the main square in Bethlehem, which had a giant Christmas tree in the centre. It seemed a bit out of place in an obviously Middle Eastern town.

We visited the Church of the Nativity, entering through the Door of Humility, which is about 4 1/2 foot tall so you have to bow to enter.  We tried to get to the Altar of the Nativity, but it was pretty crowded so I didn't get a good view.

We went to find some decent falafel, and found some at Afteem restaurant. They were really tasty and came with a lot of other dishes, like proper humus, so were much better than the salty ones in Nablus. After filling up on those we walked to the separation wall, to see the art work on it. Some of it is by Banksy, but there are other really good pieces: some profound, some beautiful. It's worth going on my album to see it (hint, hint!).

On some part of the wall there are stories from people who have suffered due to the conflict and the wall. The stories were pretty harrowing and upsetting. Some of them were quite inspiring, such as a mother handing a baby to a complete stranger so that he wouldn't get shot by soldiers. Opposite these stories is a couple of souvenir shops that are surrounded on three sides by the wall. The owners have their own stories of how the wall has ruined their livelihood. Their shops used to be on the main road through Bethlehem, but the wall divided it in two so no one came by them. They now sell postcards of the wall art and other Palestinian made souvenirs.

We looked around the old town which was grimy and disappointing and then went to return home. We had to go through a check point, again, and this time we had to queue for around 45 minutes. There were two stages and we had to queue for each. We were starting to get a picture of how the wall had dramatically changed the life of the Palestinians. Fortunately for us, once we were through we could say goodbye to annoyance of check-points. This is not the case of those who it is an everyday problem.

We walked around Jerusalem and looked for somewhere to eat, and we ended up having ridiculously posh (read: expensive) cheesecake and hot chocolate. I was a bit disappointed as it had a really rich chocolate base, which I was attempting to avoid by not choosing any of the other cakes, all of which had chocolate in the title. We then went to the church my parents' guest house was attached to, to attend the New Year's service. I thought it was a brilliant way to start 2012 and it was reassuring the they have difficulties with getting the song words onto the screen in Jerusalem as well.

Top tip: Bethlehem. Do it.

Quick Question
Have you ever been to a service to start the New Year? What was it like? 

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