After a morning of inter-photographer violence in the Yehuda market place in Jerusalem as Benjamin Netanyahu visited, a quick tally of damage showed no physical damage to me but a rather deformed pair of sunglasses. With a quick edit out of the way, a decision was made to head into the West Bank to Bethlehem for lunch. Yes, I know. Insane, isn’t it?
Making our way through the streets of the West Bank, the technique involves driving at a constant speed and in no way stopping near any security officers or police. This is down to the fact that Israelis are forbidden to enter this area and even though everyone had passports of varying nations, it’s better just to avoid having to go through the motions of showing documentation etc. It would be easy to blend in if it wasn’t for the yellow Israeli license plates on the car. Ahh. Thankfully, we arrived with no problems at the Abu Shanab restaurant on (wait for it..) Manger Street. The food was unbelievably good with a whole table full of dips and pickles and sauces and.. erm.. just “stuff” for starters followed by lamb cutlets and lamb kebabs. Awesome. If you ever go to Bethlehem, go to Abu Shanab. Anyway, religion..
With a belly full of lamb, it was time for a gut full of religion so I headed up the road to the Church of the Nativity and the epicentre of many of the world’s religions.
Now, as you may have picked up over the course of these blog posts, I’m not a religious man. If anything, I’ll admit to being quite anti-religion in many ways. I disagree with anything that has caused so many rifts, wars and unhappiness over the years while going under the name of peace. However (and it’s quite a big however), I have great respect for those who follow religion on a personal spiritual level, subscribing to the “peace to all and help one another” kind-of-thing and it is with this in mind that I headed into the Church.
Like many people, I grew up with religious hymns in school and even used to read a children’s Christmas edition of the bible that essentially cut out all the waffle and just went for the kid-friendly manger/mini-donkey/Wise Men bits when I was feeling all festive as a nipper. The places that were featured always seemed more like another planet, never mind another country so when you actually walk into the Grotto of the Nativity (not a Santa in sight, I might add..) and see the point on the ground were Jesus was supposed to have been born (below) followed by the manger where he slept, it’s impossible not to feel awe-struck.
Luckily for me, a large group of tourists was just leaving as I arrived so I managed to get a few minutes between coach-loads to wander around the different chambers and crypts alone. The manger itself (below) is surrounded by marble, covered with hundreds of tiny crosses, carved over the centuries by the worshippers who visit the site. As hard as I searched, there was no “Jesus was here 1AD” to be seen though.
It was interesting to see how many people were crying as they sat around the Grotto area but apparently this is all very normal. While up to this point I thought that the “Jerusalem Syndrome” referred to the need for every driver to beep their horn just as the traffic light turns from red to amber, it seems that it’s actually a recognised phenomena. Having only seen one real casualty of this so far (a man dressed as Jesus, walking through the market) I can’t say I’ll be ditching my jeans for a white smock just yet.