Monday, January 26, 2009

Israel Day Five--Part 2

Next, we went to the Church of the Nativity. We met a member of Bob and Sue’s branch here, who is a Palestinian who lives here in Bethlehem named Sahar. This is the church that stands over the location where Jesus was born in a stable. This church, like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is shared by different Christian churches. The largest chapel is owned by the Catholics, but that is because the holiest site here, the birthplace of the Savior, is owned by the Greek Orthodox. You can tell the parts of the church that are Greek Orthodox because they love to put tons of candles and lanterns hanging everywhere. I told Sue, it seems like they like to really junk things up—but I guess that’s just because I’m not used to those types of churches. The whole Orthodox wing of the church is built to be in the shape of a large cross. First we went down into a cave where St. Jerome lived while he translated the bible into Latin. They said that it took him over 3 years, and he lived down in this cave while he did it. Then we went into the Grotto of the Tomb of the Innocents. This is the place where they say that the innocent children that King Herod had killed are buried. It was kind of creepy because they have several tombs with bones and skulls in them, and then a shrine set up to pay your respects to the dead. Some of the skulls seemed too big to be children, and they say that several mothers would not allow their children to be killed and would stand in front of them, so they ended up dying with them. Such a sad story, because you have to think that some of those mothers left other children orphaned, having to choose between letting a child die, and dying trying to protect them. So sad.
After that, we went down to the grotto where Christ was born. You walk through this little opening, down into a cave where they have a shrine set up. Bob and Sue have been here twice, and had to wait at least an hour both times to go to see this place. Again, when we went there was no line at all. We went down in, and waited for a group of Asian people, and listened as they sang “Silent Night” together. It was so touching. Then, Todd and I had a chance to bend down and touch the star that marks the spot where they say Jesus was born. There is also a star as you look up from the spot. This moment was kind of surreal for me. I can hardly believe we are here! Then, you walk down into another cave where there is a shrine where the manger would have been. Many people actually come and leave gifts here for the baby Jesus. They didn’t have anything there when we were there, but they told us that people will leave money, rings, watches, diamonds, notes, flowers, you name it—and they actually have a place upstairs where they put the things into a framed shrine to Jesus. On the opposite side of this little grotto is a shrine to the wise men who came to bring the Savior gifts. It was hard to imagine what the site must have looked and felt like over 2,000 years ago when Christ was born. This was nothing I would’ve imagined. Yet, there is a reverence and awe that you feel as you realize that this was the place where the man was born that would save the world. I am so grateful for Him, for his mother, Mary, and his earthly father, Joseph. I am so grateful for their willingness to be obedient, to be humble, and to be strong. What an experience.
After we were done, we went to a restaurant with Sahar and her sister in law Jesse. The restaurant here was called the Grotto, and was a huge outdoor hut that had curtains that were dropped down for the winter. We ordered enough for 3 people, and got enough food for 20! They bring you like 20 different kinds of salads and pitas first, then a whole platter full of different meats including chicken, lamb, beef, and turkey. It was actually very good, until later when I was sick, and burping up lamb kebab—I felt like I needed to say “baaa” everytime I burped! Uuugh. I think I’ll stick to the 4 basic meat food groups—pig, cow, chicken and turkey.
Sahar was raised here, although she went to BYU on a scholarship, and joined the church while there. She has seen much of the ongoing war between the Israeli’s and the Palestinians. In recent years, the conflict has become even more frustrating for Palestinians because of the security fence. She was able to give us the Palestinian side of the argument, and it was very interesting to listen to her struggles. The security fence is being built between the Israeli Jewish Settlements, and the largely populated Palestinian areas. According to the Palestinians, the security fence is worse than apartheid. They believe that they have lost their freedom, their land, and their dignity in some cases because of the security fence. They say that the Israelis control their electricity, their water, and in some cases steal their land. They don’t have any freedom to come and go as they please, and in large part can’t even enter Jerusalem or other areas of Israel simply because they are Palestinian. She believes that the Hamas government was elected because of the sheer desperation of the Palestinian people, and because they are sick of compromising with the government, and sick of having no representation. She doesn’t agree with them saying that Israel should not exist, nor does she condone the murder on either side, but she did say that the Palestinians are a people without a home, and without any representation, and that is very frustrating.
A Palestinian neighborhood in Bethlehem.
Another thing that is an issue is that Jews keep moving here from all over the world, and building new settlements which encroach on what used to be Palestinian land. That is why they call it the “occupation”.
A Jewish settlement, that has been built over what used to be Shepherd fields in Bethlehem. Notice the security fence built all around the settlement, seperating the Jews from the Palestinians.It’s a hard situation, and it was nice to hear her side of the story. While I didn’t agree with everything she said, I was grateful for her perspective on the situation, and think that from now on when I look at the conflict over here, I will see it in a little different light. The drive home was beautiful coming into Jerusalem at night. I still can’t believe we’re here, it is so hard to describe what a unique experience this has been. These pictures certainly do it no justice--but I tried! I am so grateful we were able to come here.

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