We see it before we even “arrive” to Bethlehem, a massive, concrete wall spanning as far as the eye can see, rolling up and down hills and into the horizon. On top of the wall rest lookout towers, barbed wire and remote-controlled machine guns.
As I pull the rental car I am driving up to the turn-off for the checkpoint, I am told I can’t drive into the town, I have to leave my car here. On this side of the barrier between two worlds.
So, I do.
Cody, Giselle and I leave the car, and when we cross through the metal detectors and a maze of walkways leading from freedom to another, reality hits me. Hard.
The fence between Israel and Palestine isn’t just a fence. It is the divide between beliefs. Between politics. For one of the holiest places in the entire world (Rachel’s Tomb is located here and it is also the supposed birthplace of Jesus), Bethlehem seems to shrink behind that wall. The people, although proud, are hidden in a world where only partial truths get out, where the rest of the world hears what the media sees fit — stories of violence, of terrorism.
Today, we see a different story.
“Welcome, welcome,” we are greeted by locals as we walk past local shops and towards our destination: the wall which — in this area — is covered with messages of peace, of hope, of love. And of hatred. A hatred that makes me ache, as it is directed at a country I identify so much with, Israel.
A woman whom Cody and Giselle had met a few weeks earlier when they explored the city, approaches us. She can’t be much older than us, but her face shows a story of hardship. With a smile on her face, she ushers us into her tiny shop selling local artisanal gifts and a guest house which now has a view of the wall.
Authorized in 2002 by Prime Minister Sharon, this wall separates the West Bank from Israel, which Palestinians refer to as the “apartheid wall;” Israelis refer to it as an “anti-terrorist fence.” Its purpose is to separate and keep Israel secure and safe from Palestinian terrorist attacks. This wall, when complete, will span more than 400 miles, intersecting towns, transit routes, and lives.
My opinions regarding this are my own, and have no place here, but today, what I want to show you is the wall.
The wall in Bethlehem has become a living and breathing work of art.
Artists like Banksy come here and illustrate their thoughts about the ongoing conflict.
People pay to have their messages painted brightly across the cement. Or, visit themselves and leave their opinion, which lasts until someone else comes and adds their touch to the gray.
Tags, portraits, stories, all mingle here …
A canvas of beliefs that constantly change, grow, subtract.
The images, the art, speak for two worlds which cannot come to peace, and those who send messages both encouraging and discouraging this. There is a hatred illustrated on these walls … of hatred which I have images of, but choose not to promote.
Who is right? Who is wrong? I’m not Israeli. I’m not Palestinian. I haven’t lived through the bloodshed. I haven’t lived in fear. Lived in oppression. Lived in the tumultuous Middle East. It’s not up to me to decide.
What I can say is that this world will never be a better place if we cannot facilitate meaningful conversation, a way to agree to disagree, a way to live without violence.
It spans far beyond this conflict into all facets of our existence.
This post is part of the D Travels Europe/Israel series. Stay up-to-date on all of my European and Israeli adventures by following along on Twitter (#dtravelseurope), Instagram,Trover, G+ and Facebook. And, for a look at the health and wellness side of European travel, be sure to follow along at The Comfort Zone Project and on TCZP’s Facebook.