Thursday, August 4, 2011

the separation fence

In the time of Jesus, travel to and from Jerusalem and Galilee involved going well out of one's way to avoid Samaria - a land looked down upon due to their mixed Israeli/Gentile blood.  In our time, travel to and from Jerusalem and Galilee involves going well out of one's way to avoid the West Bank. Today's reasoning, however, is due to the barricade surrounding the land.

We couldn't go through it, but we did go in it... to visit Bethlehem. I just couldn't imagine traveling all the way to Israel without seeing the birthplace of Christ.  Now I wish I hadn't been so adamant about it.

Inside the lightly guarded walls, life feels different.  Cars are old, buildings are darker than the rest of Israel, and the landscape isn't as clean.  Bethlehem itself is cramped, modern, and very hilly.  In the tour guide's haste, we had a split second view of the old city as we drove past it.  That momentary glimpse is the only one we had of how the little town could have appeared when Mary and Joseph rode into it over 2000 years ago.

The Palestinians within the West Bank are vastly different from the Palestinians without it.  Their oppression and forced imprisonment inside the walls is the only conclusion I've been able to come up with to explain the hostile attitude and blatant disregard of some of the locals towards all tourists.  Not that I blame them; I'm sure it's painful for them to watch hundreds of people freely walk in and out of the West Bank, when they'll never be able to leave the 5,640 square kilometer space. 

the "exact spot"
After seeing the "exact spot" where Christ was born (and the three hour wait, which I had a hard time dealing with, preceding it) we stopped at the compulsory gift shop.  Boredom set in after my initial walk around the small store, but I took a second loop while my mom mulled over jewelry.  I stopped in mid step as I noticed olive wood bust statues of Joseph and Emma Smith.

Turning to the shop owner, I asked, "Is that...?"  "Joseph Smith," he replied, "many Mormons come here."  "Ah, I see."  "They like olive wood," he continued.  "Yes," I said lightly, "I know."  "They also like nativity sets," he added. "Yes," I responded with a smile, "I know."  After another minute or two of being shown items Mormons generally like, I thanked him and stepped outside for some fresh air.

The moment I sat down on the last available patio chair, a peddler, who already targeted the others in my group, turned to me.  "Necklace?" he asked, attempting to hand me a few. "No thank you," I responded, without reaching out to take the offering.  "Purse?  Do you want a purse?" quickly exchanging the handful of necklaces for a crochet bag to give me.  "No thank you," came my response, without giving the bag any regard.

He turned back to the woman in my group who naively took the necklaces handed her.  He proceeded haggling, as she made futile attempts to hand back the necklaces.  After a few minutes of his persistence, it was easy to see the growing frustration on her face in wanting to return the items.  "Just set  them down on the chair," I whispered to her as the peddler was speaking to someone else.

You would have thought I killed his only child.  The peddler whipped around, red in the face, and started yelling at me.  On and on he went, venom in his eyes. "I'm sorry," I explained, "she didn't want it."  I stood up and walked to the van.  The others followed, and so did he.

He threw snide remarks to the woman who didn't buy the necklace, from the opening of the sliding door.  And, feeling as though he didn't express himself well enough,  he stood on the opposite side of the window of which I sat and pointed at me, swearing... until the moment we drove away.

Then we visited Jericho, the oldest continuously inhabited city and the lowest city in the world.  And that was that.

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