Wednesday, July 27, 2011

West Bank

I went on an organised half day tour yesterday, which took me into the Palestinian territory of the West Bank. It was a Bethlehem trip, visiting Manger Square, the Church of the Nativity and other biblical sites.

Although the mini-bus had to pass through an Israeli checkpoint there was not the slightest hassle, and only a very short delay each way. No passport checks, no getting out of the bus or being questioned. I had read about being herded through a high security area and being subjected to interrogation. There was nothing like that. Perhaps it is different for independent travellers. The organised tour quite possibly smoothed things over.

Of course, I saw the security wall the Israelis have built to keep suicide bombers out. It works, but I am well aware that its route is highly controversial - along with the other effects it has on peoples' daily lives. There are lots of political slogans and murals on the Palestinian side. Things are cheaper in Bethlehem than in Jerusalem - at least, water and snacks are.

There was a German guy and his Swiss girlfriend among the group. They began the morning by arguing, and throughout the trip he kept asking her to repeat herself.. Wie Bitte ? By the end of it, they seemed to have made up. Neither had dressed appropriately for visiting holy sites. He had to be told to take his hat off, and both of them had to borrow shawls to cover their shoulders and drape around their legs so they weren't exposed.

Having been to the supposed birthplace of Jesus, I am still no more religious than before. If that couldn't convert me, nothing could. Later in the day, back in Jerusalem, I took a walk to the Garden of Gethsemani. On the way back I sat on the steps by Damascus Gate again, where an enthusiastic Moslem gentleman tried to get me to embrace Islam.

I have now been in and out of all seven of the Old City gates. There are actually eight, but one of them is not "available" for use. I have also taken a bus to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum. It tought me a few new things that plugged gaps in my historical knowledge. Tomorrow is my last full day in Israel. I've got another day-trip booked. It will take me back through the West Bank, to Jericho, the Dead Sea and Masada.

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