For Part One, click here. I’m starting where I left off, covering my trip to the West Bank (Západní břeh Jordánu) this summer, with the goal of listening more than judging.
A strange part of the trip was when, on our way to Bethlehem, we needed to take a detour back into Israel and through Jerusalem in order to avoid a traffic jam.
Our tour guide, who is not an Israeli citizen, could not legally cross over into Israel. He had to get out of the bus and take a taxi separately to meet us in Bethlehem.
Now, I understand that this is the law. But it just seems so sad and unnecessary.
Before we entered Bethlehem, we stopped at the elephant-in-the-room wall*, which was full of murals that expressed sadness, despair, and outrage alike. There were white signs with short anecdotes mostly from young Palestinian children living in the area. My favorite mural was the one in the picture that heads this post, which shows the violence on both sides, and the simple desire (underneath it all) for a homeland and a nationality.
Bethlehem also surprised me. It’s so small for such an important place, but has lots of winding streets and many olive wood shops – most people make their living carving and selling olive wood products! I bought two pairs of earrings – one, doves carrying the olive branch, and one, stars, and I’ll be coming back for their expensive but unique bowls:
We visited the Milk Grotto, a church built around a cave where Mary is said to have nursed baby Jesus, and where, when a drop of her milk fell on the ground, turned the entire cave white. We also visited the famous and beautiful Church of the Nativity on Manger Square, which holds the cave where Jesus was said to be born (marked today with a star). It is full of devotional Christian objects:
Before we returned to Jerusalem, we made a sweet stop… I have to say that there’s nothing like kunafeh, an Arabic dessert that has many variations, but can basically be explained as a “cheese pastry soaked in sweet, sugar-based syrup.” It’s often covered in thin strings of phyllo dough and pistachios. It’s made in a pan and is served hot and melty.
Photo credit to cobone.com
What I want to remember most about the trip is our tour guide’s philosophy on the wall. I asked him if it made him angry. He said it used to, but it doesn’t anymore, because at some point he had to accept responsibility for it. I said, Responsibility?! He said that the wall was built as the Israelis’ reaction toward the Palestinians’ violence. He said that currently, the only viable solution is a rebuilding of trust between the two sides. Only then could any other solution, such as the Two-State solution, be discussed.
Now, I don’t know if he’s right or wrong. But I never looked at it that way before.
And this sign, regardless of religion, really spoke to me:
“We are hoping that: If you enter here as a tourist, you would exit as a pilgrim. If you enter here as a pilgrim, you would exit as a holier one.”
In my interpretation, this means: We don’t have to be religious to be on a spiritual quest or journey. And I definitely learned a lot during my journey through the West Bank.
*slightly, but not entirely reminiscent of this wall.