Yesterday I visited Bethlehem. The drive is really short, but is now doubled because everyone has to stop at the separation border between Israel and the West Bank, where Bethlehem is.
We spent the first part of the day visiting a Palestinian Think Tank and Bethlehem university. The center here is trying very hard to make sure that we are learning about not only the Israeli side of the complex conflict, but the Palestinian side as well. Today was a little bit of overload on Pro- Palestine. It is hard to digest it all. I find myself going though phases of "yeah! I love Palestine, they need out support!" to "Oh man, this is such propaganda..." to "the only way this is going to get solved is by the 2nd coming" and Back to "go Palestine!" all in the time of an hour lecture! The problem that I keep seeing is the concept of victimization here. The Israelis feel like victims from the holocaust and have no remorse for taking back their holy land. and the Palestinians feel victimized because their land was taken away, and is still being taken away to this day because of the separation wall that cuts deep into Palestinian land. and because of the lack of the freedom of mobility because of Israeli checkpoints all though the West Bank. Nothing is going to get accomplished if both sides are playing the eternal blame game.
I spent the day with my beautiful Polynesian friend, Erika, and we had a lot of fun together. While shopping in Manger square outside of the Church of the Nativity I told a man trying to sell us necklaces that we were trying to listing to our guide. I was kind of rude to him. But apparently he didn't think too much of it because half an hour later he told me that "my eyes killed him" and he handed me a long strand of beads for a gift. Erika was also given a bracelet and a necklace for gifts from a different vendor. These guys never give stuff away. We couldn't believe it. Although it was slightly embarrassing walking back to the bus with 80 of my friends and teachers while a salesman shouted our names down the street saying that he would miss us.
Then we finally got to go to the Church of the Nativity. I was looking forward to this trip, but I didn't know how great it would really be. I expected the church to be busy, full of shrines and incense, and not have much spirit there. Well I was right about the first two, but luckily not the last. Since the 80 students were all in the grotto at once we got to sing a few hymns while waiting in line to see the holy stones in the grotto. Before coming here I did not realize the true validity that this place. there was a church built in this spot before 100 A.D. So only two generations or so would have to remember where a lady on a donkey and her husband came into town begging for a room were put up for the night. Also, many prophets have said that this is indeed the place where the savior was born. I am so lucky to be able to see such a holy place. I was so touched that I put my hand over my heart. Our tour guide came over to make sure I was breathing ok and not having an asthma attack. This really was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.
Lots of Love from Yisrael.