Bethlehem – the Palestinian Authonomy
We booked the half-day tour to Bethlehem and its neighborhood with an Israeli travel agency MazadaTours. One day before we were informed about the change of the operator and we were ensured that the itinerary does not change.
9 AM we were picked up by the new operator and we headed towards the checkpoint between Israel and the Palestinian Authonomy. On our way the guide ( a very nice older, smiling lady who was calling herself Tamar) was telling us about the beginning of the State of Israel and the challenges it was facing in the beginning of 1950s when the massive immigration of Jews from all continents created a serious accommodation and food supply problem. She made clear that the newly created state would not make it without the massive private donations arriving from the Jewish diaspora from all around the world.
When entering the Palestinian Authority the security checkpoint is a pure formality and the cars pass through without stopping. Visually, the city of Bethlehem does not differ from Israeli cities.
After having “ticked off” a mandatory stop in one of the gift shops, we headed towards the Navity Church. It is located at the main city’s square, opposite to the mosque. There was a funny situation we experienced on the square when Tamar was trying to pass the message that the mosque had to dominate over the Christian church due to the superior status of Islam in this place. Then, a local guy approached the group in a friendly way and told us the following: “Look, what she’s telling you about the architectural domination of the mosque is actually true. However, this is not due to the superior position of Islam in this place. Simply, the voice of imam had to be heard in every part of the city and this is why the minarets of the mosque are taller than the church”. Following the statement, Tamar and the local guy started laughing and gave a hug to each other :-). This is probably mirroring the profile of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict.
We entered the Church with the main aim to see the Milk Grotto, a cave when Mary gave a birth to Jesus. Unfortunately, we did not get the chance to go down there as the place was occupied by the church officials. After having spent one hour waiting to get to the place and after not having moved a step forward we gave up. Quite annoying as there were Christians from all over the world waiting, including a group of Ethiopian Christians who will probably never again afford journey to Israel.
After having visited the Church we were brought back to the security checkpoint. We protested against it as the itinerary of the trip included several other places in Bethlehem and around it and then we realized that our tour operator put us on a completely different trip than we booked.
The security check is much more cumbersome on the way back to Israel, however, Israeli tourist busses benefit from “light procedure”. The time spent at the checkpoint was not longer than 10 minutes.