The Road to Bethlehem

04Jan18
Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Mosaic in the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Christmas season reminded me of challenges that came with planning a visit to Bethlehem while I was on the trip to Middle East in August. There was plenty of conflicting information on the Internet and in tour guide books, which made me decide to write a blog entry on how to go Bethlehem and to visit the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Palestine

Bethlehem is located in the outskirts of Jerusalem, and it can be reached in approximately 30 min by car. It belongs to Palestine, which makes it a bit challenging to visit from Israel because one has to pass a checkpoint/border. After going through the checkpoint, I realized that there was no reason why any tourist should worry.

There are three ways, listed from most to least expensive, to get to Bethlehem:
1. Hiring a private tour guide,
2. Taking a taxi with Palestine license plates outside of the Damascus Gate, and
3. Taking a public bus from the bus station across from the Damascus Gate.

Photo 2017-08-09, 12 07 42

Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, Israel

Hiring a private tour guide is the most comfortable solution but also the priciest. Taking a taxi with Palestinian license plates is not something that I would recommend because it involves a great amount of haggling with taxi drivers, which can be exhausting and annoying. Air conditioning and overall state of these taxis are also very questionable. Lastly, the price for hiring a taxi is still going to be higher than buying a bus ticket  (200 NIS/car vs. 10 NIS/person for return bus ticket).

An air-conditioned coach bus number 21 departs the East Jerusalem Arab bus station approximately every 15 min., and it takes about one hour to reach the centre of Bethlehem. On the way to Bethlehem, it passes through a checkpoint which at the time of visit, we just drove through. From the centre of Bethlehem, one needs to walk for about 20 min. to the Church of Nativity. Hiring a taxi to reach the church may not be the most advisable option because the streets are very congested with traffic and people, and it might take nearly as long if not longer to get to the church. On the return back to Jerusalem, the bus departs from the same spot where one got off.

Anyone who comes to Israel, particularly Jerusalem, should take a day to visit Palestine. There is so much written on travelling through Israel, yet going to Palestine really puts into perspective the tension and political environment in which locals live. It also gives one an opportunity to form one’s own opinion on what is right and wrong when it comes to human rights – whether Palestinians are treated justly or have they been perhaps oppressed and isolated from the world. For me, something that started only as a pilgrimage became a lesson on oppression. Yet this somber and disturbing experience was worth every effort.

May 2018 brings us all more humanity, understanding, and tolerance. Happy New Year!

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