Jerusalem, Bethlehem, & Palestine

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Jerusalem is known as the religious capital of the world.  It’s a mecca of religions – Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all come together in a single city.  And because of this, it’s an area of the world that has always disagreed and been in battles.  Fortunately, at the time we visited, things were calm and peaceful, but that’s not to say that the people in this area weren’t on edge.

We were crossing the border from Jordan into Palestine.  Jordan is predominately Arab as is Palestine, but Israel claims the Palestine land and the Israeli’s are predominately Jewish, so the border crossing was, well, complicated.

We showed up early, as other travelers had suggested we do, and found ourselves entering a building that would have been used as a barn in The States.  There were birds and bird nests in every corner and the windows and doors were no longer.  We walked in, put our bags on an x-ray machine, and shuffled through the three windows and one office of the immigration officers, each puffing on their cigarette and stamping our paperwork accordingly.  At the last window, they took our passports, put them on a stack, and said, “Wait over there.”

We waited for about 30 minutes before another man came up and asked us to follow him to a bus.  The bus itself was quite nice, a typical charter bus that might find in The States.  We boarded, waited for a bit longer, and he finally got in, started driving, and said, “You have your passports?”  The other two passengers and the three of us all shook our heads no.  Screech.  He gets out, goes back into the building, and comes back out with five passports.  We drive about five miles past a few immigration buildings and through a stream of soapy water, which the driver explains is to wash the tires of the bus and other transportation vehicles of any viruses from Jordan.

When we finally stop, we get out, he hands us our passports, and we enter a security building.  The staff appears to be mostly Arab, although a few speak English quite well.  Our bags are shuffled through x-ray machines, opened up, and every item inspected.  There are metal detectors, which of course, I cannot go through.  A young woman comes up to me, ask where my husband is, and I point to Tony (we are not married, but in this part of the world, it’s just easier to tell everyone that we are).

A few minutes before she approached me, I saw her get a bullet proof vest from the main desk and put it on.  She escorts me, with Tony, into a hallway and a room much like a fitting room in a clothing shop.  She points to a chair and I assume I need to sit on it, so I do.  She looks at my wheelchair, uncertain what to do with it but knowing it needs to be inspected.  Another man takes it from her and she shoos Tony away.  She shuts the curtain, looks at me point blank and asks, “Do you have a weapon?”  We finish the pat down and my chair is returned.

Next stop – COVID testing.  We each go into a room for our entry nose swab and wait patiently for the private driver who would drive us to our AirBNB in Jerusalem.

Our AirBNB was not what we expected.  It only had a queen bed and a fold out sofa, was incredibly small, and the windows did not block out any noise from the street traffic.  That being said, both nights I slept the best I had in weeks.  Sometimes it’s not really about the accommodations, but the experience outside of the room you sleep.

We found a restaurant around the corner while we waited on our tour guide for the day.  Iris showed up shortly after we sat down and we got to know her a bit before we ventured into Old Jerusalem for the day.

So history was probably my worst subject in school.  I can solve a math problem with the best of them, but ask me about events from hundreds of years ago and I glaze over.  You can imagine that Jerusalem was quite overwhelming knowing that I don’t have a knack for the many, many years of events compiled into this small part of the world.  What I do know is that Old Jerusalem has a Christian quarter, a Jewish quarter, and a Muslim quarter.  We visited each of them and there are nuggets of information I carried away from the experience.

We had traditional Jewish bread from a roadside stand.  We saw the room where the last supper was, the stone that Jesus was laid on after he was crucified, the original stones from the time he was alive.  We had knafeh in the Muslim quarter – a cheese dish with a sweet layer on top.  It was rainy, crowded, and not super accessible, so a challenging and mostly overwhelming experience.

The next day, it was also raining so we spent the morning visiting a museum dedicated to Holocaust survivors.  The combination of the rain, the museum itself, and the onset of the attacks in Ukraine put us all in a very somber mood.  We had lunch at a crowded vegan restaurant and tried to liven up, realizing we were so lucky and we needed to take every positive moment full of gratitude.

We hadn’t yet visited Bethlehem, the place where Jesus was born, and it was the last thing we needed to see before our trip ended. We got a taxi who drove us there and informed us on the way that it would be best for him to wait on us.  Bethlehem is in the Palestinian territories and it’s hard to get an Israeli taxi back to Jerusalem, so we asked if he would wait, which of course he did.

We pulled up to the church which housed the nativity site.  The building itself was surrounded with Arab officers, all holding long rifles and pacing through the parking lot, seeming unconcerned about anything happening.  The manger is down a steep flight of 14 steps, so I opted to sit it out.  I waited at the top and a young man asked if I would like help going down.  “It’s okay, I am the police, you can trust me,” he commented.  It didn’t seem worth the effort, so I politely told him no, but thanks.

And just like that, we were done in Bethlehem.  We had seen Jesus’ birth place.  It took a whole 20 minutes.  Our time in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan had come to an end.  It was a trip filled with culture, education, fun, laughter, and my favorite part, a culture of so many incredibly kind people.

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