Girishkumar Kumaran

A curious being
The Church of the Nativity Bethlehem

A trip to Bethlehem – The birthplace of Jesus Christ

  • Is it safe to go in there?
  • A good note to our taxi driver
  • How to reach Bethlehem from Jerusalem
  • Getting in and getting out of Bethlehem

Bethlehem is the place where Jesus Christ was born. Constantine the Great built a church around the purported location of Christ’s birth. Now, although not kept well, this church is a UNESCO world heritage site, which is about 10 kilometers south of Jerusalem in the Palestinian territories. As we enter the territories, it feels entirely different compared to the cities of Israel.

Street within the Palestinian territories leading to Bethlehem

Is it safe to go in there?

Yes, that’s what I felt. People are warm and smiling. Many wanted to greet and have a bit of chat. If I was not reading newspapers, I would have gone into that region without any hesitation or fear or preparedness and would have come out of there perfectly safe.

The effect of media on me was so much so that a conversation between me and a friend went like this

Him: What we will do if we get into some trouble in Bethlehem

Me: Either we will be dead, or we will live to tell a story

But nothing of that sort happened we came out of Bethlehem completely safe, with a few stories to tell.

View of the Judean valley from the Bethlehem hilltop in front of the entrance to the church of the Nativity
View of the Judean valley from the Bethlehem hilltop in front of the entrance to the church of the Nativity

A good note to our taxi driver

We took a taxi to reach the Church of the Nativity from the checkpoint. We had planned to walk but both of our Google Maps decided to stop working when we reached the checkpoint. Strange. And my dear friend decided to leave the phone on the backseat of the taxi we took. By the time he realized that his phone was gone the driver had left.

I tried to call the phone from my phone. Unfortunately, my 019 mobile could not find signals and I could not call. What can we do!! We almost decided to forget about it and continued our tour of the church of the nativity. We walked to the checkpoint on the way back. We explained our situation to another Palestinian we met on the way who also happened to be a taxi driver. He tried everything possible to figure out who the other driver was. He even spoke to other taxi drivers near the checkpoint at the Palestinian side and they all figured out that the taxi driver is someone who operates at the Israel side of the checkpoint.

To cut the story short, the first person we met after crossing the checkpoint was our taxi driver himself. He was unaware that we left the phone in the back of his car. He promptly searched his car and found the phone and gave it back to us. How lucky my friend could be? We thanked the Palestinian driver profusely. Unfortunately, we did not think of taking a picture with him. Next time, I will do that.

How to reach Bethlehem

Bethlehem is a place where you can go by yourself. There is a bus station near the Damascus Gate of the Old City in Jerusalem. There are buses running towards the security checkpoint of Israeli forces, beyond which is the Palestinian territories. Get down there. You can either walk or take a taxi. If you take a taxi don’t forget to bargain. Use Moovit or Google Maps to find your directions by typing in “Church of the Nativity.”

Getting in and Getting out of Bethlehem

Entry into the Palestinian territories is hassle-free — no checking whatsoever. You can walk in. It came to me as a surprise that Israelis cannot go into these territories and they don’t. To get back to Israeli soil, you need to go through extensive security checks similar to the airports. My visit was on a Friday, and I was in a queue for at least an hour. The moment the Israeli officers recognized that I was from India they were extremely friendly and allowed me to get through the security without any further hassles.

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