When we started to plan the trip to Israel, I had a certainty: I wanted to visit the place of Jesus’ birth. As we know, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Until then, what I had not realized is that Bethlehem is part of Palestine, and therefore, is separated from Jerusalem by the fateful wall of separation.
My boyfriend, who is much more knowledgeable about Middle Eastern issues, than the person who writes this blog, was aware that this same wall is filled with street art, more precisely, with graffiti, and that, in those days when we would be in Bethlehem, the hotel that is attributed to Banksy would open its doors for visitation.
So we decided to put it all together and hire a local guide to accompany us for part of that day. We agreed that we would meet at CheckPoint 300, on the Palestine side. Here is another addendum: CheckPoint 300 is how one of the numerous Israeli checkpoints is known to restrict and control the passage between the autonomous Palestinian areas and Israel.
From Jerusalem, we took the bus number 24, in front of the Damascus Gate, towards Bethlehem. Suddenly we were able to observe the majority of Muslims occupying the seats. Natural.
The journey followed a mixture of anxiety and tension. Anxiety about what we were about to see and tension, by the uncertainty of the passage at the checkpoint.
It was about 30 minutes from Damascus Gate to checkpoint 300. We got off the bus and we just got into the checkpoint. We were not stopped at any time by the Israeli police officers who were in the place. We followed the flow of the Palestinians, who had access to the Israeli side of the “border”.
Finally on the Palestinian side, the view is of the wall and several taxi and anxious taxi drivers that wait for for the tourists who venture in search of the Banksy’s graffiti around Bethlehem. Some of them already approach you offering the service.
After the meeting with our guide, we began to explore: we appreciated the graffiti around the wall, visited a refugee camp, ate a pita with the locals, had a local beer, and finally visited the Banksy’s hotel, before heading to the Church Of the Nativity.
One question that many have asked me was about security in the West Bank (that area of the wall). My response was that I did not feel insecure at any point with the Palestinians. To be honest, the only moment when I felt scared was when I approached the wall, precisely, next to the gate in the watch tower, and I heard a noise as if it would open. The fear, in fact, was about who was watching me from the towers, not who I was seeing on the ground.
The result of my experience in Palestine was absolutely surreal. It was not easy to see and hear the demonstrations by the Palestinians about the impossibility of come and go, the difficulties to develop tourism in the area and the indignation due to the development of israeli settlements in Palestinian areas situated on the border of the separation wall. The breath was the sympathy of the people (I even got a magnet in a store from a palestinian), the almost non-existent rates of urban violence and the hope better days.
I would like one day to return to this place. <3