Sneak preview of Christian television in Bethlehem

Well, last year I was ready to fly home and see family for Christmas.   I am trying to pack in getting lots of things done before going, in particular, getting someone to check my mailbox and pay any bills, buy presents, host a party at my house with some of my other single friends for shabbat.

In addition to that, I wanted to meet up with my friend Peter Friedlander who is a photographer and video producer, he was at my church which runs a training school for students looking to enhance the work of the Christian ministry they work for by producing video content.    Once qualified, Peter has used his skills to do video work for a Arab ministry to witness to people in Bethlehem, Jesus’s birth town which today is a bustling Arabic city which is controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

As tourism is probably the life blood of the economy of Bethlehem, of course you will see more Christmas decorations out in the street than anywhere else in this part of the world, however just like commercialised western Christmas there maybe little in common with celebrating the birth of the Jewish Messiah, regardless of what time of the year he may of arrived, and more like a giant Woolworths in the middle east. 🙂

Bad taste bible stories

Sometimes I see people use stories from the bible out of context in the worst way possible.   In the case of these two pictures its from both people groups here in Israel.

The last supper with Hollywood stars?  Me and another Christian friend challenged the Jewish owner of a youth hostel on this, wondering if its really wise considering how many Christians visiting his business might feel offended about this but he just seem to think it was funny.

Yes, its the nativity scene with a seperation barrier.  This commonly used by Palestinians to manipluate the west that this hated barrier uses to keep terrorism from getting into Jerusalem.    The concrete pilars that make up this structure are ugly, but no sensible person wants to go back in the days during the intafada where there were bombings on buses and coffee shops every week.

Along Hevron Road – from Jerusalem to Bethlehem

After my trip to Rachel’s tomb I took some pictures on the way back….

The white sign shows a welcome to Jerusalem

New house construction in progress.  This was stopped for a while during the building freeze which was during talks with the Palestinian Authority.

Houses are far to expensive here, new builds all around the country are necessary to provide for growing Jewish and Arab families. (its common for both types of families to have 5-10 children)  Other cities like Karmiel pay about 40% less rent for a similar apartment than Jerusalem residents do.   I don’t think of the houses as a settlement, but as part of the regeneration of the sovereign nation of Israel.   There is a new school, police station and shops in this district when I went there about 2 month ago.

I stopped outside this church on the Hevron Road.   Its a Greek church, and has very pretty gardens.

Everyone had just left when I arrived, I spoke to priest who had tradition Greek Orthodox Christian garb on, asking if I could look around but he said he was just locking up.

There are Arab Christian families on the way back to their cars.    I am not sure if these Arab people live the main west part of Jerusalem or if they come across the border that is about 2Km down the road where I have just come from.

Left: There is small cafe and plenty of picnic tables, and looks like a nice place to fellowship with people after the service.   I need to come back here another time I think.  Right: Poster for Taybeh, a Palestinian beer, on a table in the garden.

Visit to Rachel’s tomb

Its a while since I have done some exploring of places from the bible.  As I am at the end of the my second season I thought I would make up for lost time and see some places.

The weekend before last I try to get to Rachel’s tomb which is on the Israel/Palestinian security gate that goes between southern Jerusalem and Bethlehem.   This was something of a ‘ballagan’ (Hebrew for chaos, I am not sure if I wrote the Romanised spelling right 🙂 ) as I spent ages finding it, and seem to get different answers from everyone I asked.   I gave up and went home, and came back the following weekend.

This time I was given a different method to get into Rachel’s tomb.   At one specific gate into the border, intended for cars.  I had my passport checked along with this Asian-Canadian girl who was also going this way I was chatting  to.

I was asked by the guards, “are you a Jew?”  in which I replied no I was a Christian. “But you don’t wear a cross?” I was asked.   Maybe I should get one I guess.

I was told I could not travel by foot the 100 yards or so through the border, but he pointed to this blue Subaru driven by a religious Jew and told me to get in, I said I don’t know this guy, do you know him?   “its ok, he is a Jew, just get in!”   I was kind of shocked that the guards asked me to get in a stranger’s car, but I did it anyway and so do this girl.  The road winds in a sort of S shape in between the tall concrete walls of the Israeli/Palestinian border.   Unlike other parts of this wall as its so well guarded there is no graffiti here.  After only a minute of a very short ride, the car stops right outside Rachel’s Tomb.

In the historical building itself, the building is heavily disguised in concrete being sandwiched in between the high security walls.

Once in, I don’t see much historical information in English outside the tomb itself.   Inside there is a longish corridor and then a partition which guides men and women into separate parts of the room.

When I go in its full of Orthodox Jews praying reading the scriptures, one of the reminds me I should have a kippor on, so he lends me one, and I decided to sit on a chair and pray for a bit.   It doesn’t seem right to take photos or explore a bit, so I leave.   The room feels the same as the archway next to the Kotel.

I was a little disappointed, as there was not much to read on history.  There really isn’t anything of interest to casual tourists.   Nevertheless its was exciting to see another place of the bible and see religious Jews visiting who value its sacredness.

Back outside, behind this unusual looking wall is some quite pleasant public toilets and a car park.

I take a wander down a short road which goes to a dead end to another vehicle sized gate.   There is construction work here, but in an empty square of land here nestled between the two security walls, so neither housing for Jews or Palestinians, more like extra offices or facilities for the border security.

On the way out of the border, I realised there was a bus service.  This bus does’nt go right through the border, instead it goes just to Rachel’s Tomb, thus not requiring a lengthy security check to get back.   There isn’t any kind of queueing, instead everyone just piles on, I let the women holding babies go on first.   I am not allowed to use my normal (Egged) bus pass for some reason, so it just requires me to pay 4.20 Shekels for this ride.   Religious women make up the majority of folks on this bus ride.   I can only get off about 1km away from the border, necessitating a short walk back to collect my bicycle.

I was reading this passage in the bible which talks about this place.  Genesis 35:16-21  16 – “Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty.  And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, “Don’t despair, for you have another son.”  As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named her son Ben-Oni.   But his father named him Benjamin.   So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).  Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb.  Israel moved on again and pitched his tent beyond Migdal Eder.”

This particular place is the centre point of news this month as the UN, Palestinian Authority and the Turkish Prime Minister have been saying the Rachel’s Tomb is a Mosque, see

I saw this quote from Christians Standing for Israel blog on Rachel’s tomb:- “You don’t have to be a Biblical scholar or a learned archaeologist to recognize the long-standing and incontestably Jewish nature of Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs. Arguing otherwise is akin to asserting that the earth is flat, Elvis is still alive and the moon is made of cheese, and that is how the Palestinian claims should be viewed.”

Because of the not so conventional method of passing through security, I can’t offer any advice on how to get through the border, you will need your passport and its a simple case of heading south from Hevron Road from Jerusalem southwards.   There is not a huge amount to see so I think its best left for bible history adventurers to do as something on the way to or from Bethlehem.  Right: coaches arriving from the Jerusalem side.

Tip:  if you want to converse with anyone, Jew or Arab to find directions to Rachel’s tomb, try pronouncing it like the French, ‘Raquel’  there is a better chance they will understand you.

Bethlehem – journey to birthplace of Christ part II – nuts on Christmas

Parts 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5

Ok, which food reminds you of Christmas?   Turkey? mince pies? Christmas pudding?  Ok, some of these will depend of regional customs that different Christians celebrate Christmas, ie: Christmas pudding is largely a British thing I think.

Now think which food really actually could be found in the Holyland during Christmas?   I have blogged before about Pomegranates before, but how about nuts?

More specifically almonds.

One of the group pointed out this tree, its got ripe nuts on it!   So after shaking it quite a bit, most of the nuts fell onto one of the metal shelters next door (duh)   after a few times, I got a few on the ground, and after breaking them open with a big most of them were quite nice.

Before leaving the grotto park, the garden also had strangely lots of small holes and tunnels in the ground.  Didn’t see if these were natural quirky bits of geology or if they made by someone.

Below Christmas is in full swing here, decorations were mostly quite discrete and tasteful.  Tourism from Christians of course is the life blood of the economy of Bethlehem.

more soon….

Parts 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5

Bethlehem – journey to birthplace of Christ part I – The Grotto

Parts 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5

Today (27th December)   I went to Bethlehem, I was planning on going Christmas day, but as I had no else to go with (travelling to the Palestinian territories on your own is not advised)  and that it would be hugely crowded I went with a family who are parents of one of the other volunteers here.   This family was partly here with a tour of some Filipino Christians who were here for a couple of weeks.   I got to Hillel Street at 8.30am and we all packed onto a coach.

The trip out of Jerusalem into Bethlehem is pretty short, getting through borders to the Palestinian territories is nothing that complex either.   Once through the gate in the concrete walls, this hotly contested area of the middle east isn’t at all that different from a regular part of Israel.   I can see olive, orange and lemon trees with fruit on, houses in the familiar style stone, none of the land is particular flat, you are forever going up and down and around curves, there are children playing, of course this is an Arab district and I see mosques and minarets more or less the same as Jerusalem.

Bits of Bethlehem do look quite untidy just like outer parts of Jerusalem, half finished houses (or should that be houses with extensions unfinished?)  broken cars rusting away, rubbish strewn around rocks, but at least where I could see, it doesn’t seem to be all full of poverty, there are large modern houses with swimming pools as well, and just like Jewish culture, the Arabs have plenty of small businesses of all kinds.   The cars look noticeably older (despite most cars in Jerusalem are old and knackered looking) mostly 1980s Peugeots, Renaults and Toyotas, and they have green licence plates and sign posts are in Arabic with no Hebrew to be seen.
The first stop on the coach was at this place called the The Shepherd’s place, which had a park which had an entrance with the words “Gloria in Excelcius Deo” (sounds like some words from a hymn?)  Here is a very pretty chapel and some really beautiful views of the Judean hills.

Here is the inside of this chapel, the pictures here tell some of the story in the Christmas carols…

Spent a good while here, this picture below shows me with the hills in the background, this location is where the Shepherds watched their flocks that came to visit Jesus.

aha, now I know where Santa got the idea of calling his workplace a ‘grotto’ 🙂

Parts 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5