A little more than half way through my time in Jerusalem I took the day to leave Jerusalem and visit the West Bank. I had planned to visit there earlier in my trip, but my plans had fallen through. I didn’t know what to expect since I would be completely on my own in a part of the world that is unpredictable and not known to be especially welcoming of tourists.
The West Bank Wednesday – April 29, 2015
Just a twenty minute drive from Jerusalem on the road to Bethlehem you come to the security wall or what is called the political wall by some. I walked across the border. At first glance it’s not that different than the crossings from the U.S. to Mexico. Here though the border guards sit behind steel and bulletproof glass barricades. You can barely see the outline of a human behind the glass. You walk through tight turnstiles and hold your passport up for some unseen human to make sure you can cross. On the other side there is a slight physical change – the streets are dirty, the cars not quite as nice, the buildings run down, but basically the same. It’s not even as dramatic as walking into Mexico. It’s really the tone that changes. There are two things that I noticed that seem to be at odds with each other. First, the people are much more friendly and open. They smile at you, want to say hi and you don’t get the feeling that they just want you to buy something. Second, there is an air of despair. It’s like they are just living because it’s what you do while waiting to die. Sure it’s poor and people are unemployed. They struggle to make ends meet, but it’s not like it’s right there in the surface. I have been told though that the further south you go the more that changes.
The Church of the Nativity is like a one ring circus where worshipers and tourist mingle. I noticed that there are a lot of Muslims walking through. I asked one why they come here and was told it’s the birthplace of Jesus, a prophet for us, and also we just want to come and learn about our Christian brothers. We just want unity. This is the same tone that my driver for the day kept bring up between bouts of passionate disdain for Israel. This is a struggle between Palestinians and Israel, both Christians and Muslim. He even says that more than 70% of Jews want peace, but they won’t speak up. What of Jerusalem, he says, it’s rightfully the capital of Palestine, but in reality it just needs to be a place for all people to come and worship that’s the path forward. Settlements dot the landscape. The largest is a small city of thirty thousand people. A massive planned community with luxury condos and skyscrapers and a walled off freeway that tunnels its way back to Jerusalem. The entrance ramps look like they have toll booths, but instead it’s border crossings.
Over all it was an overwhelming day with a struggle between at one point finding myself on the edge of tears and fascination. Through a crack in the wall next to Rachel’s tomb I could see a Jewish man in prayer only moments after having walked through a mosque. These are devoted people. They live their faith out in the open. They don’t hide it in shame. They are proud of who they are. Not something I can say for myself. I find myself ashamed of my faith many times and I want to hide it because I am afraid of the perception it may give. It’s not like I don’t have good reason. Just like the 70% of the Jews my driver wishes would speak up, I wish Christians would speak up too about injustices they see – not only here, but other places. I guess that’s why I am here. I don’t want to be someone who doesn’t speak up. I want to use what I am good at like video production and visual story telling to at least tell the story in a way that just might bring new perspective.
Next week: I will share my thoughts on the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem – a monument to the horrific events that resulted in 6 million Jews loosing their lives and ultimately created the momentum that led to the creation of the state of Israel.
Author: Andy Yardy