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PALESTINE

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Star marking the birth place of Christ, Bethlehem
Star marking the birth place of Christ

Palestine is comprised of two distinct areas.  Gaza is a small strip of land tucked between Egypt, Israel and the Mediterranean.  Israel blockades all sea access to Gaza, so its only outside access is through Egypt.  The second territory is the West Bank.  It is located on the west bank of the Jordan River between Jordan and Israel.  Currently approximately 60% of the lands in the West Bank are controlled by Israel while 40% is controlled by the Palestinian National Authority.  Control is dispersed in a varied geographical pattern.  Israel has built many hundreds of miles of border fortifications in the West Bank and continues to aggressively settle the region.

Entry Requirements:

Palestine has complicated entry requirements that are determined by its bordering countries.  In the early 2010s, the Gaza strip is controlled by Hamas.  Entry and exit between Gaza and Egypt or Israel are extremely difficult or impossible.  On the West Bank, it is possible to cross the King Hussein Bridge from Jordan into Palestinian controlled areas.  The only commonly used border crossing is between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.  Tourists can visit Bethlehem on organized tours without a visa.  Armed militia will board tour buses in order to maintain security and visitors return to Jerusalem the same day.

Bethlehem:

For tourists, the main draw in Palestine is Bethlehem.  It is accessed on tours from Jerusalem.  It takes about 20 minutes of travel time from Jerusalem to reach the Church of the Nativity, Manger Square, the Milk Grotto and the Shepherd Fields.

A Day in Bethlehem

with Tim Anderson
Bethlehem is under Palestinian control, so the security delays in and out from Jerusalem can be lengthy. Armed security walked through the bus. The two Israeli military personnel looked like teenagers, as did many of the security personnel with rifles that we saw on the streets during our bus travels. Our trip to Bethlehem continued the strange multi-religion traditions at the Church of the Nativity. The entrance to the church has a large square arch that originally would let in camels, but was filled in first by the Crusaders to a small arch and then by the Greek Orthodox to a half height door called the Door of Humility. This forces all, regardless of their status, to bow before the King of men. The quote of the day came from one of the tourists who refused to enter – “I’m not bowing down to go into some stupid church.” He waited outside. The site of the birth of Jesus is a church that is controlled by the orthodox church, but has an Armenian alter, a Syrian Orthodox alter and an entire Roman Catholic Church wing. The site of the manger and the birth are beneath the Greek Orthodox altar and many proceeded down into the cramped space with the birthplace marked by a star set in stone. Two priests were making strange Arabic type chants as we visited and the Greek Orthodox decoration was best described as tacky. The Roman Catholic wing was traditional Catholic décor and is the site of world-wide televised ceremony each Christmas.


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