Monday we visited Bethlehem, the city where Jesus was born. It is governed by the Palestinian Authority in accordance with one of the many peace agreements negotiated of the recent past. An 8 meter high wall separates the city from the rest of the West Bank.
We spent some time in the Aida Refugee Camp, listening to those who live there, visiting a community center, buying crafts made by the women of the camp and reading their stories. A man told us how difficult life is there; how all aspects of life is controlled by the Israelis and, that he was once jailed for 6 months for playing football with his brother after a curfew.
We learned that Israeli soldiers at times break into their homes. There have been instances where mothers have been shot, as well as young boys. While there, an armored Israeli truck entered through an opening in the separation wall. Suddenly young boys were taunting the soldiers. There was a heightened sense of excitement as well as noise as the situation rapidly grew more intense. Our group was quickly whisked away by our guide.
Looking out on the camp from a roof top, it looked like a prison with the wall and several surveillance towers with machine gun stations. And in fact, there are many of these located along the long stretches of the separation wall.
As we were leaving the city we heard two tear gas bombs explode and saw the smoke. It was reported that this happens around 4 PM almost daily as an act of intimidation towards the Palestinians. I felt sad as I prepared to leave Bethlehem. This was no longer the city of my childhood dreams of Bethlehem, the Christ child in the manager and the eager waiting for the magic of Christmas for a young girl, the singing of “ O ’Little Town of Bethlehem and “Away in a Manger”. My beautiful Yuletide dream has changed. No longer the peaceful image of Christmas and the birth of Christ. It is now a walled prison where basic human rights are not available to its citizens, a place where Palestinians living there are not permitted to make the 6 mile journey to Jerusalem.
As I walked along the wall on my way to the check point, where I was free to leave and journey to Jerusalem, I took notice of the graffiti and paintings on the wall along the way. One stood out for me. It was a painting with these words of Scripture on it from II Corinthians:
“Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.”
I hope for a day when there will be peace between Israel and Palestine.