It’s 7 am when I arrive at the meeting point. It’s already hot so I search for some shade. My driver arrives before I finish one pita bread. I don’t know his name but he knows mine and knows where to take me. We drive in silence and he doesn’t speak also when we approach the Israeli checkpoint. The speed bumps start a few hundred meters before and are so high that even with 5km/hour we’re thrown in the air. The car slows down but doesn’t stop. I look at the so-called security wall and think: “Probably higher than the Berlin one”. Indeed, the concrete blocks measure 8 meters here, the ones in Berlin were just below 4 meters at the highest point.
We enter into Area “A”, currently consisting of around 18% of the West Bank, where the Palestinians hold control both over safety and public administration. A few kilometers further the car stops on an unfrequented road and a man gets in.
– My name is Mohaned. Not with “m”, with “n”, remember.
We meet only here because as most of the Palestinians my guide cannot enter Jerusalem without a special permit. Together with his wife and two sons he lives in Bethlehem. For six years they have been in the US but given the choice between a formal refugee status in America and re-emigration, he didn’t want to forever give up the possibility of going back to his country.
I visited Bethlehem on Maundy Thursday in the Eastern Churches, which made it both unforgettable and extremely exhausting at the same time. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims arrive to visit the Church of the Nativity and you can see truly hair-raising scenes of people fighting and struggling about a place in the line to the Grotto of the Nativity. However stunning the sight, I’d strongly recommend choosing a different time of year for your visit to be able to fully enjoy it.
NB: In addition to centuries-old stones and its charm, Bethlehem has as well plenty to offer for kitsch lovers: Jesus hologram postcards, Christian tattoos, all-year x-mass shops, life-size carved wooden nativities and many more – make sure you don’t miss it.
(Below there are also some photos taken in the AIDA refugee camp).