Friday, February 25, 2011

Project Israel- Bethlehem

After arriving in Tel Aviv on Thursday afternoon, we headed to our hotel in Bethlehem, but made a stop at the Shepherds' Fields first. There are actually three sites called "The Shepherds' Fields" in Bethlehem, each in the custody of a different group. The one we visited is in the custody of the Franciscans. No site claims to be the exact spot where the angels announced the birth of Jesus (Luke 2), since, as our guide said, events like this don't tend to leave archeological evidence.

The next day we started out at the Herodian- a gigantic hill top fortress Herod the Great built just outside of Bethlehem. He actually had the top of one hill removed to build up an adjacent hill so his palace could be seen from farther distances!

Next we visited the Church of the Nativity, which is the oldest Christian church in continuous use, for over 1700 years. Under the altar is the grotto where a star marks the place Jesus is said to have been born, and another grotto marks the spot where he is said to have been laid in the manger (again- events that don't tend to leave archeological evidence).

After those historical sites, we turned to more contemporary concerns. We visited the Tent of Nations- a farm on a hill that has belonged to a Palestinian Christian family for generations, who have stubbornly (dare I say faithfully?) held onto their land despite being surrounded by Israeli settlements  that are in violation of the Camp David and Oslo accords, and despite repeated attempts by the Israeli government to declare it state land. It is still a working farm, as well as a place where programs are put on to promote peace between Israeli and Palestinian children.

Finally, we visited the al-Arob refugee camp on the outskirts of Bethlehem. The residents are descendants of the residents of a number of villages in southern Israel, who were "temporarily relocated" in 1948 so they could "avoid the war" with neighboring states. They were promised that they could return in two weeks, and though I want to believe that the brand new Israeli government legitimately meant two weeks, they are still there sixty-three years later.

I have quite a few thoughts bouncing around in my head about these two very different encounters with Palestinians today, but I think I need a couple days to process those thoughts into something coherent. So for now, I hope these brief reports and pictures will suffice.

Check in tomorrow for our experiences in Gaililee!

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