Not exactly like the former Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie, but perhaps more like the border crossing between North and South Cyprus, I am trying to find something to compare with the militarized zone and containment wall I have just passed through. Travelling from Jerusalem into Palestinian Bethlehem (which, translated, means bread bakers) to visit the supposed site of Jesus’ birth, I was amazed to see machine gun toting young soldiers at the gate’s entrance. The wall dividing Jew and Palestinians is about 25 ft. high and surrounded by menacing barbed wire. Without realising it, the officials and military of Jerusalem provide an opportunity for graffiti artists and citizens to express their disgust and anger at being kept out of this holy city. Our tour guide did say that though the threat of terrorism is still very high the secret service monitor young hostile dissidents very closely and have been very effective at stopping them before they can carry out violent acts. I imagine to keep the peace there may be no choice but to have a barbed wired concrete barrier and secret police. I didn’t like to bring it up, but Jewish terrorists killed a British ambassador and many others before 1948. But as I was travelling with a group of Americans, I wasn’t sure they would appreciate that fact. All is fair in love and war?
It was fascinating to visit the grotto where Jesus was reputedly born. The church built to stand over the spot was constructed during the crusades. Unfortunately, it is in quite a state of disrepair with dirty columns and distressed mosaics clashing with the ornate Greek Orthodox golden lanterns and religious iconography that also appeared quite ancient. The queue to go down into the grotto was long and the experience of descending very slowly down the steps into a narrow passageway was somewhat claustrophobic. The place of Jesus’ birth is marked by a 14 point cross in honour of the Via Dolorosa and the place where there may have been a manger has several hanging lanterns which doesn’t give it much of a feeling of authenticity.
Still, overall, I found the excursion to be excellent and particularly enjoyed the Bedouin lunch put on by Patra Tours which are contracted by Celebrity Cruises.