Postcard from Bethlehem

Bethelehem, Church of the Nativity © myheartinpalestineII

Standing waiting outside Jaffa Gate, the entrance to The Christian Quarter of Jerusalem, I again checked the time. The driver was now over 30 minutes late, and I was beginning to think I would never get over to Bethlehem for Christmas day.

There were a group of six other people waiting for the same car. And one of them told me that a man from the tour company was on his way over to sort the problem out.

When he arrived he apologised profusely telling us that “This is the Palestinian Territories for you, they are never organised.” I thought it a bit lame to blame the Palestinians but remained silent.

After an hour wait our driver turned up and I climbed into the car with three Americans, a South African and two French people and we headed off to Bethlehem. Once we had been checked through the border crossing we stopped at a shop to pick up our guide and to change cars. It became apparent that Bethlehem on Christmas Day was not going to be easy.

On arrival at the Church of St Catherine, situated at the end of the square, it was obvious that there was little chance of getting anywhere near to the crusader remains or the main alter. The Church was packed to the rafters. From the back we could vaguely hear the Christmas day service being held, but it was just a sea of people and after a few minutes our guide motioned for us to all fight our way back out of the door where still more pilgrims were attempting to come in.

Then we were rushed towards the Church of the Nativity, and told we wouldn’t even be going in because there was a three hour wait. At this point the two French people started to whine, like a couple of huge animated mosquitos. Our guide looked apologetic but as he explained “This is Christmas Day. What did you expect?”

I declined to reply that we had obviously expected to go into the Church of the Nativity. Already disappointed we headed for the milk grotto down Milk Grotto Street. We had a few minutes to pass by where Mary first fed baby Jesus.

We continued out towards the field where “shepherds watched their flocks by night,” but the field was closed. The Catholic Church had closed the field to visitors. How or why anyone could close a field, Catholic or otherwise, was beyond comprehension. But it was closed.

I deduced that we had spent three minutes in a church and three minutes in a grotto and that concluded our tour of Bethlehem. We were driven back to the shop that we had first started from and were told another car would take us to Jericho. I requested to go back to Jerusalem, but was told no, I have to go to Jericho. “But I don’t want to go to Jericho.” I said.

The guide was adamant “No you must go to Jericho. The cars have been arranged.” And then an army tank pulled up and soldiers climbed out armed and ready for action, blocking the road off. I now could see that we were neither heading for Jerusalem, Jericho or anywhere else for that matter.

There was talk that the Palestinian President was in town and would be driving past where we were standing. After what felt like an eternity, a cavalcade of cars, bikes and army vehicles began to pass by. One car with blacked out windows had the Palestinian President in, but it could have been anybody. Once the cavalcade had disappeared and the tanks had driven off, we drove to Jericho via a place for lunch.

After a Christmas day lunch of kebab and beer we were driven in another car to Jericho. Here we were given 45 minutes, and then we would be going back to Bethlehem to be picked up by another driver to then be taken back to Jerusalem.

After the insanity of a day in Bethlehem I was relieved to return to what appeared now as the relative calm of the city always at war with itself, and often called “Hysterical Jerusalem”.

Written by - Edited by Charlotte Amelines - Photo by myheartinpalestineII

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