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I’m back at base after an extraordinary whirl through the Middle East, from the citadel and souks of Aleppo, to the fabulous desert ruins of Palmyra, to the Ummayad mosque and caravanserais of Damascus, to Jerusalem with its manic religious intensity and finally the West Bank, that bleeding wound at the heart of the region. So much to say, so little time. For a peaceful starter, here is the interior of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

As a huge pile of work sadly limits my blogging time, the best I can do (again) is post some snaps with quick commentary. Number one to mention, the most moving and most appalling, is the concrete separation wall (NOT fence which Israelis often euphemistically call it) which climbs the hills of the West Bank, dividing Palestinians from their land, olive groves, markets and even families. From what I saw, this Israeli construction is particularly atrocious in Bethlehem – what an irony for such an iconic town with its long history. The pics of the wall are in high contrast to the serene nave of the church at the heart of Bethlehem (above), which is what most tourists come to see.

My taxi-driver, Ashraf, had been one of the dozens of Palestinians besieged in this church in 2002 – “we ate leaves and drank dirty water”. This is an example of the strikingly resourceful Palestinian spirit that resists, despite the fact that these Bethlehemites are now forced to live in a virtual island (ghetto?) encircled by the wall. Ashraf, for example, is driving a taxi to help fund his university studies, hopefully taking him on to better things, while the wall itself has inspired incredibly inventive grafitti – some from visitors (including the British street-artist, Banksy) others from the ‘inmates’. I use that term knowingly, because this is what is feels like when you leave Bethlehem through the cattle-mustering structures of the checkpoint – you’re leaving a prison. But a prison for innocent people and now, inevitably, integrated into daily life. As one Palestinian artist I met said, “A checkpoint represents time, not space” – i.e. you never quite know how long it will take to get through. What he didn’t say was how intensely humiliating that transition could be.

Nice blog! Facinating to see the photos. The wall has inspired some interesting responses.

Comment by Russell on November 15, 2008 @ 3:23 pm

Thank you for your words. We are innocent peope living in prison.

Comment by Lina on April 3, 2009 @ 2:34 pm

[…] actually think it is in Israel. In fact that hideous separation wall (read my 2008 post about it here) stands between the two states, making Bethlehem virtually an […]

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