I didn’t tell the parents we were going to Palestine. I knew what they’d say. To be honest, it wasn’t on the itinerary, until that Friday.
That night, Rahul and I discuss in immense detail. “We’ve come so far! What are the odds we will ever get to go to Bethlehem again?!”, I crowed. But he needed his own research – Will Palestine be safe? How do we manage the travel? What about our travel documents – Do we carry our passports? Yes, all the important stuff. All I knew is I had to go. One thing echoed and rightly so – if anything were to happen to us in the West Bank, the Israeli government will not be held responsible.
Some research and hours later, we decided to go. We zeroed in on Elijah tours to help us get there. We booked a private half day tour for Bethlehem and waited in baited breath until we hit the confirmation button. We were to visit the most holy site in the world for Christians, only located in a place which grabs the attention of the entire world for totally different reasons.
We were picked up in Tel Aviv and dropped to a meeting point in Bethlehem where we were scheduled to meet Dia, our tour guide in Bethlehem. An hour into the ride, we are there at the check point which leads us into the Palestinian border. I notice bright red unambiguous sign boards which warn citizens of Israel against entering the area. It states, “You are entering Area A which is governed by the Palestinian authorities.” It also states that, “entry for Israeli citizens is forbidden and against the Israeli law”. I waited in baited breath as we approached the check point and kept all my papers and passport ready for inspection. But there wasn’t any. Great! We saved some time.
We noticed only taxis on the roads for a while and then as we entered the city, we saw a different one. The numbers on the cars were in green, unlike that we saw in Israel, the yellow ones. The streets were dusty, less crowded and the limestone buildings seemed more or less untouched.
The car climbed and swerved up the narrow roads and minutes later, we met Dia and then proceeded onto the touristy places in Bethlehem.
We went to the Church of Nativity (the church is built upon the cave where Jesus was born), Shepherds field (where the Angels announced Jesus’s birth) and also saw the infamous wall bordering Israel and Palestine. Interestingly, most of Banksy’s work is displayed in and around the city, some right behind a car washer/ repair shop.
Much can be said about this wall. It is said that while the Israelis built this wall for security reasons, Palestinians consider the wall to be apartheid. The conflict saw the intervention of the UN but it still stands tall and strong stretching about 700 odd kms. One of Banksy’s work (angels trying to tear the wall) is quite prominent amongst all the other graffiti.
A few hours and one amazing lunch later (best falalel hands down in the world), we were heading back to Tel Aviv. As we cross the border check point this time, we notice atleast 30 cars waiting in line to cross the border check point!
Was it all that scary? Well, the West Bank has always been in the news for all the wrong reasons but Palestine does bring to its shores the pilgrims, art enthusiasts and the adventurers alike. Where else in the world can one witness a site as revered as Bethlehem or view Banksy’s work dabbed on random walls in the city? There is enough and more to do in the city considering 80% of the country’s revenue comes from – TOURISM. If you fall into either of these categories, this place is for you.
Having said that, it is however not recommended for tourists to head to the super volatile Gaza strip.
Our day ended in the peaceful long drive back to the busy streets of Tel Aviv. I was scheduled to leave Tel Aviv a day later, and had only heard about their super intense security check. And then I had to go through it. Never seen something like this. Coming up in the next article!
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