Exploring Bethlehem

Bethlehem & Beit Jala, Palestine – March 2015

I return to Bethlehem, this time alone, to understand more of Palestine and see Bethlehem beyond Manger Square.

After my friends from Jerusalem and I went our separate ways, I went to catch a bus back to Bethlehem. I was getting a lot of looks so I decided to pretend not to know English to avoid conversations, though I soon regretted this as the person who sat next to me was very interesting. This ended up being a very different bus than the one that dumps everyone out at Manger Square. Everyone was Arab, very few people spoke English, and it stopped on the Jerusalem side of the wall, requiring us to walk through several floor-to-ceiling turnstiles to get through. I ignored the throng of taxi drivers as I went through, though one spitefully got the best of me and told me to go the opposite way to see a building I was looking for. I ended up in a very isolated section of the wall, though I realized this quickly and kept going out of curiosity. There was a ton of art and graffiti there. Apparently the locals don’t care much for the wall.

I decided to walk in the opposite direction of Manger Square, to the real Palestine. This section of the city was full of sterile grey walls, destroyed buildings, and graffiti. 180º different than Jerusalem.

After a bit of walking I decided to find a hotel so I couldn’t be robbed of my bag with essentially my entire life in it. I looked for a bit but there were no hostels in the immediate area and the hotels looked expensive. Then I saw a hotel with what looked like a construction crew walking in. Jackpot. The entry to the hotel was split-level and when the men walked down the flight of stairs, I walked up. The family running the hotel was surprised to see me and when I asked if they had any rooms available, they said yes and had me name my price. I probably could have paid less, but it was half of the price of the others in the area already. He took me to the room, apologized for the dust, and explained that a bathroom with hot water was in a lobby down the hall. I spent the remaining daylight exploring the main streets in the area and making mental notes of where I should return the next day.

The adhan woke me up the next day. I went to explore, following a path of street art that was becoming more and more militaristic.

I then stumbled upon a mosque, but it was not like the ones in Arizona and Jordan where everyone smiled. I was clearly the outsider here and got enough dirty looks to last a lifetime. My desire to ask where I was was quickly replaced by a desire not to maintain eye contact too long with anyone. I saw this magical staircase and followed it, assuming that friendlier people would be around something this colorful.

wpid-received_987594634607978.jpeg

wpid-received_987594431274665.jpegAt the top I asked a shopowner where I was and he told me Beit Jala. I asked where that was and he told me to head right on the big road for a while to reach Bethlehem again.

I knew I had arrived in an outsider-friendly area when I saw this shop. It seemed tacky to be monetizing the work of someone who made a mockumentary about his work being monetized, but Palestine isn’t fiscally blessed so it’s hard to criticize anyone trying to feed their family.

I caught the main road back and was at the hotel 30 minutes later. I went to a prepostourously good kebab restaurant recommended by the owner and got some sleep.

The next morning I walked back to the wall for one last time before heading back to Jordan. I found this bombed out building that my friends and I had stumbled upon earlier and climbed to the top to get a better vantage point of everything, then swung by a shelter I had seen before, though it was closed.

Though I didn’t see nearly enough of Palestine, I was happy to get away from the main streets and sites in Bethlehem.

Hebron and Ramallah beckon next time…

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