Where We Be
Bethlehem, West Bank
Seeing the wall from inside the West Bank was an unexpected experience
The Intercontinental is considered the nicest of the 30-odd hotels in Bethlehem
We liked the signage at Bethlehem City Center, from the KFC logo with Hebrew lettering to the Nativity Roastery & Candy shop
We also got a kick out of the names of some of the souvenir shops
The Church of the Nativity is the oldest church in the Holy Land still in use. Emperor
Constantine himself ordered construction of the original Christian church here in 326 AD.
This is the Door of Humility to the church, designed in Ottoman times to ensure that even
the most important visitor must dismount his horse and bow upon entering this holy place
We're standing in the nave looking towards the (hidden) altar. Some elements of Constantine's original church,
like the pillars, remain, but most of it was torn down and reconstructed by Emperor Justinian in 531 AD.
Rich but fading mosaics still adorn the side walls of the church
These polished limestone pillars date from the original 4th century Constantinian church
It's exciting to be standing in the church that marks
the spot where, according to tradition, Jesus was born
The intricate designs of the mosaic floors are still visible in places through trap doors
Heading downstairs to the Grotto of the Nativity, you come to the focal point of the church: the cave which has been honored as the
site of Jesus' birth since at least the 2nd century AD. We were surprised it was a cave instead of a more traditional-looking stable.
Within a few yards of the silver star is the manger site, where Mary is said
to have "laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn"
According to tradition, this is where the Wise Men came, guided by a star, to visit the baby Jesus and present him with gifts
The whole church is built to honor this spot: the traditional place of Jesus' birth
Here's a closer look at the iconostasis, or Greek Orthodox wall of icons and religious paintings, which stands in front of and hides the altar
Bethlehem is not only the traditional birthplace of Jesus but also the home town of David, King of Israel
This local grocer's shop was well supplied with watermelons and other fruits and veggies
We were consistently impressed with the abundance and quality of fresh fruits and veggies in Israel and Palestine
Security checkpoints control traffic through the West Bank. There are three different levels of security within the West Bank: Area A
(under limited Palestinian control), Area B (under Israeli military and Palestinian civil control), and Area C (under Israeli control).
The West Bank barrier stretches some 430 miles (700 km) and essentially follows the outlines of the West Bank
90% of the security and separation barrier is a fence with trenches and 10% is a concrete wall up to 26 feet (8 m) high
Following are a series of photos of the concrete wall, covered with political graffiti
The original mosaic floors have been mostly
covered to protect them from damage
After our church visit, I went for a walk through the streets of Bethlehem while the rest of the group shopped
Bethlehem is located in Palestinian territory
inside the West Bank, and to get here you have
to pass through two checkpoints, change to a
bus with the right kind of license plates, and
follow along a barrier wall covered with political
graffiti ranging from ugly scrawls to beautiful
artwork. Emotional story postings share space
with store ads and catch phrases like “Tear
down this wall” and "Make hummus not walls."

The Church of the Nativity is the one crucial
stop for Christian pilgrims to Bethlehem since it
marks the traditional birthplace of Jesus. The
focal point is downstairs, in the Grotto of the
Nativity, where a silver star marks his actual
birth site. A few yards away is the manger site
where the three Wise Men are said to have
brought gifts to the baby Jesus. It's more
marble now than the manger scene we're used
to seeing at Christmas time with farm animals
and hay. Upstairs is one of the oldest Christian
churches in the world. It has fine marble
columns, a mosaic floor, and Greek Orthodox
priests chanting and swinging incense censers.
The star I'm touching marks Jesus' traditional birth site and
is the focal point of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem