Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Bethlehem was where Jesus was born.  It was certainly a Jewish town in those times, some 2,000 years ago.  It was captured by the Arabs in 637 AD.   The Crusaders took it in 1099.  Saladin, the Kurdish Muslim Sultan of Egypt and Syria, captured it again.  Later it passed into the hands of the Turkish Muslim Ottoman Empire.  Today it is a Palestinian city in the West Bank (of the Jordan River), under Israeli control. 

Many tourists visit the Church of Nativity, which commemorates the birth of Jesus.  There is also the Tomb of Rachel - the second wife of Jacob.  Ruth, of the Book of Ruth, gleaned the fields to the east of here.  David was born here, and was anointed to be the second king of Israel by Samuel here. 

Today the population is mainly Muslim.  It also has a sizable Palestinian Christian community - which is shrinking due to emigration.  There are no Israelis living here, as far as I know.  Our Israeli tourist guide was not allowed in Bethlehem. 

Tourists who come to Bethlehem have to ride in buses with bullet-proof glass windows, because of the frequent violence - rocks, bombs, etc.   Recently, the Israeli government built a snaking wall to separate the Palestinian districts from the Israeli districts - supposedly to prevent further conflicts.   This wall restricts the freedom of movement and hurts the economy, leading to further resentment. 

This labyrinthine mixture of history, culture, religion, human rights and economics is probably impossible to dis-entangle.  I do know personally, however, one Israeli who is partnering a Palestinian in business, not because of some noble cause, but simply because both find it profitable.  I also met a Jewish rabbi who actively engages Christians (and presumably other people) in dialogue seeking mutual understanding. 

Isn’t it better to try to work together so that both can prosper?  Or at least to “live and let live”?  Rather than mutual destruction?


KYLE said...

Yep,i agree.though i don't know so much about the history of middle east,i can sense the turmoil whenever i see a picture about middle east on the newspaper.I'm a Christian and really wanna go to bethlehem!

StephenC said...

Yeah, it is really worth going. For for me, it is not so much the Church of Nativity that is off interest. It is how the place has changed, is still changing, and will change.

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