Another early rise, but not quite so early, thank goodness. Mini-bus to Bethlehem and our first close-up sight of the wall. Horrible. We also passed Baksy’s ‘Walledoff Hotel’ and managed to convince the driver to stop there briefly on the way back.
Our guide, Ashraf, a Palestinian Christian, met us inside the wall and took us to Star Street, the old road into Bethlehem from the north. It follows the old cliff line and was likely to be the route Mary and Joseph took into the village. It had been lined with souvenir shops, but the conflict has meant that many Palestinian Christians have left the town and mosr of these shops have closed. We walked into Manger Square where preparations were underway for the advent celebration tomorrow.
Then into the Church of the Nativity, a heavily ornate Greek Orthodox Church with an imposing iconostasis. We queued behind an excited group of children to go down to the nativity site under the main altar. It is quite a small room but we managed to touch the stone where Mary supposedly gave birth and to see the place where the manger ma have been. I hoped I might have felt something, but I’m afraid not. Perhaps I am too much of a cynic? Anyway the church was impressive although much of it was swathed in plastic as it was being restored. There were some beautiful mosaics from the 4th century and a charming courtyard and cloister.
From there we were led like sheep to a Palestinian Christian souvenir shop. Everything was made locally we were told, but they were expensive and even with a discount we felt ripped off. We walked in to the Milk Grotto where apparently Mary and Joseph stopped on their way to Egypt and Mary fed the infant Jesus. Spilling a drop of milk turned the cave white. Hmmmmm. What was touching was to watch a young child move behind our group to the picture of Mary feeding her infant, kneel before it, touch it and pray. Such faith, puts mine to shame. I’m afraid the sight of ‘baby Jesus’ surrounded by dollar bills seemed to me a more eloquent testimony of what modern day Bethlehem is all about.
We walked down a hill which afforded fine views over the east of the city and a nearby town built on the shepherd’s field in recent years. Room in Bethlehem is still at a premium it seems!
The mini-bus took us back to Jerusalem, but we had to wait for over 20 minutes to get out of the Palestinian sector, an indication of what Palestinians have to go through every day if they work outside the wall.
To sum up, for us, Bethlehem was a disappointing experience, but for Dani and Mike it was everything they hoped for which was wonderful. The afternoon proved much more interesting for us in the end………..