Into the West Bank

Posted: December 8, 2006 in islam, Israel, jerusalem

I had a strange dream last night. I was at my old Catholic high school and they had installed what appeared to be giant iron doors in place of the old regular ones. When I touched the doors they seemed to turn to putty and I ended up turning them into hanging ribbons of putty. When people at the school saw it they were up in arms about it so I went to the principals office and told them I’d buy them new doors. Then I woke up. weird.

Today we went to Bethlehem, and becasue it lies in the West Bank and is under the Palestinian Authority, we had to take an Arab bus. Israel has two bus systems, one Arab and one Jewish. After a quick bite to eat Rafa, myself an Brenda the Canadian head over to the Arab bus station and pay the 3 and half shekels for the trip.

After a few minutes of driving I see a really tall concrete wall reaching about 40 feet into the air and an even taller security tower. I thought it was an IDF base. It was Bethlehem. The bus let’s us off and we have to go through this security fence and show ID’s and the whole 9 yards till we finally get through the wall. It’s a little disconcerting when you see a wall erected through the middle of a street and buildings. On the inside, the wall is covered in graffiti and stenciling. It’s mostly politically oriented. When we got through the checkpoint were are immediately hit up by cabbies offering tours etc., but I just kept walking, not knowing where I was going, but not wanting the barrage of people. One cabbie was persistent however, in letting me know that the Church of the Nativity was too far to walk to and he showed us on a map where we were in relation to it. He was right, so we agreed to hire him.

His cab was quite nice. A Benz wagon. He introduced himself as Walid. Along the way, he pointed out various sites of interest and I began to ask him about the wall. He said it has been there since 2002, and it’s there because the Islamists and Hamas caused too many problems for Israel. Apparently the IDF still does raids on places there as well and will call in a curfew an hour before the raid. He also told me that there were many Arab Christians in Palestine and that they have always co-existed peacefully with the Muslims.

After some more small talk we arrive at Manger Square and duck into the Church of the Nativity. This is the oldest church in Israel and you can tell. It has the remains of these beautifully ornate mosaics depicting angels and people. The support columns in the church were some sort of reddish-brown marbel or granite and show their age with very old carvings of crosses and script. I take my photos and then leave.

Outside I saw a vendor selling the traditional Arab head dress. I buy one since I’ll be heading out into the desert again in a few days time. The street vendors here are extremely pushy and demanding, and if you don’t know how to deal with it, you’ll find yourself in an uncomfortable situation. That’s what happened to Brenda. She had accepted a “gift” from one of the vendors and was being pressured into buying 5 other things from him. I figured that at her age she should know better than to accept any “gifts” but she ended up getting yelled at by the guy. While I was waiting for Rafa to finish his photos inside, I got to witness the Friday noon prayers across the square where the mosque was. Hundreds of men were lined up in the street, the square and sidewalks to do their ritual. It lasted a few minutes then regular life resumed. Rafa finally finished his pics and we then took Brenda to lunch since it was her Birthday. After we called Walid to come take us back to the wall.

One the way back we spoke some more with Walid about the situation between Palestine and Israel. I asked him if he thought there could ever be peace. He was optimistic.

He dropped us off at the wall and we shook hands. He gave us his crd and told us to let him know if we wanted to come back. I noticed his email address and chuckled. it was He was indeed a big guy. We parted ways and began the walk back through the security checkpoint. As I was walking along, looking at the graffiti, i noticed something. On the wall spray painted in black were the words “Walid the beast”.

Back in the old city I decided to split up with everyone. Rafa had met a girl and I felt I needed some quiet time. I realized that this whole trip so far has had me going non-stop with no time to think about or reflect on what I’ve experienced. I decided to go walking through the city and ended back at the wailing wall. It was almost sunset on Friday; Shabbat was beginning and the area was packed. It was all black suits and hats and yarmulkes. There was a crowd away from the wall in the back of the courtyard area of these happy singing and jumping Jews, while the wall area was mostly solemn. They were swaying, reading the Torah or praying out loud. After people watching for awhile I wandered back through the bazaars and ended up running into Rafa and his new friend Zohar.

Zohar is from Tel Aviv and was just passing through Jerusalem. She doesn’t come often, in fact she says most Israelis in the rest of the country don’t like to come to Jerusalem because they think it’s too dangerous. Her mom was apparently worried that she was here. And it wasn’t even necessarily due to the Arab/Israeli conflict. According to her, the Orthodox Jews have been known to get violent if they don’t like the way a lady or man is dressed in their area, and they apparently have infighting between their own sects. She says they don’t work, have huge families and that the reason the taxes are so high here is because of them. They have strong pull in the government so they get what they want. She was quite opinionated about them, and about eh Arab Israeli conflict as well. In fact she explained that in Israel there is a difference between Palestinians and Arabs. Arabs are Arabs that live outside of Palestine among the Israelis, and Palestinians are the Arabs in Palestine. The Arabs and Israelis apparently lived together for a long time peacefully outside of the Palestinian territory, but then when things got hot in the late 90’s and 2000, the Arabs showed up to protest in favor of the Palestinians and by doing so, they harmed their friendly ties with the Jews. She said she used to have friendly neighbors that were Arabs then after the demonstrations she felt they betrayed their trust. After a good hours talk, she had to get back to Tel Aviv so I said goodbye and Rafa walked her to the bus station. I was tired by now and thought I’d relax and call my wife. By the way, hummus here is spelled homos.

View today’s photos

Video from Church of the Nativity

Churchbells from Church of the Nativity

Sabbath Celebration at the Wailing Wall

  1. Kirk Wicks says:

    Hi Mark!

    I’ve really enjoyed reading about your trip so far. Sounds like you’re taking a lot in and are having a good time. Will you bring us back some “homos”?


  2. sumit says:

    Hi Mark, looks like you are having awesome time. don’t forget to bring ‘homos’ for captain kirk!


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