From Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to Bethlehem and Hebron

Scheduling issues meant that I headed straight to a tour of the West Bank my first day in Jerusalem. Fortunately I was able to at least see the Old City briefly and step inside it’s gates. Jerusalem can seem like an ordinary Israeli city. It is much more conservative by far than Tel Aviv, in terms of how people dress and overall religiosity. But wandering it’s streets, everything can seem relatively ordinary, as you wonder whether the historic Jerusalem you have read about is really tucked away here somewhere.

It is.

Tomorrow is devoted to exploring the Old City. Today, I went on a tour led by Samer Kokaly. Being a Palestinian, he could not come to Jerusalem to meet us, and so a driver with Jerusalem residence brought us into the West Bank to meet him.

Hebron makes quite an impression. You don’t have to stay there long to see firsthand the hassle and oppression to which the Palestinian inhabitants of the city are subjected. There are people whose house’s entrance has been absorbed into Jewish settlement territory, and so rather than deal with the hassle of checkpoints, they climb in and out of their house through the back window. There are people who are Christians and thus who are technically allowed to enter certain areas, but are prevented from doing so because of Israeli military who doubt their status – in spite of wearing crosses, and having their religion written in their identity card, or even being an American citizen of more than two decades.

The site of the supposed burial sites of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca is contested territory, with the one building being split down the middle into a mosque and a synagogue. The irony is that both groups are facing opposite sides of the same wall to say their prayers and express their devotion. I wonder whether any of them notice the poignance of the symbolism.

In Bethlehem we visited the Church of the Nativity. We had a different guide show us around the church, and I refrained from making too many comments about the difficulties in the infancy narratives.

We also visited a refugee camp, where the residents have had the opportunity to replace their tents with brick houses, and have more access to the rest of the West Bank, but also have had to resign themselves to the fact that they will never receive their land back.

We also visited the infamous wall, observing some of the slogans, and seeing this famous bit of graffiti by Banksy:

This has been an incredibly rewarding day, and I didn’t really feel tired except walking to the meeting point and returning from the drop-off point. A both were near the Old City, which I have discovered is annoyingly far from my hotel.

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  • Beau Quilter

    Thanks sharing this fascinating trip with us, James. I look forward to hearing about the coming days. I appreciate reading your perspective of the plight of Palestinians in the region.

  • Alana

    I just found your blog through a link from Slacktivist, and as a) I must love any theological blog with a “Doctor Who” tag as used as yours is, and b) it seems you’re exploring the area that is my backyard (until Tuesday night), let me say: welcome! Sorry about the heat, but it’s only going to get worse. Walk slow, drink lots of water. If someone invites you up to their roof, go. You’ll never have time to do everything, so take time to listen. Enjoy your stay!, and if you’re around Tantur in the next few days, come say hello!

  • James F. McGrath

    I wasn’t far from where you were, but didn’t manage to realize until rather later. 

    On the way back from Israel I was in London, and got to go to the Doctor Who Experience, which was great. I just posted about it!

  • Anonymous

    James, I hope to put soon on my blog some recordings made in Hebron with Christians who are watching over Palestinians who are often hustled by settlers. Very sad stories.

  • James F. McGrath

    Thanks Danut, I’ll look forward to reading your post about that. I only shared a selection of the photos I took here, and so one that I forgot to include but is particularly poignant is a photo of a street with a fence over it rather than next to it, to keep settlers living in houses overlooking the street from throwing things on the Palestinians on the street below them.