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I don’t know

I was awake half the night. I couldn’t sleep. Yes, the heat was oppressive but that wasn’t it. My mind just wouldn’t let go of what’s happening in Gaza. I don’t have any answers. I don’t know enough about what’s happening to contribute in any meaningful way to the debate. I have never lived in Israel or in Palestine. Other than spending a week there last year, I know little of what life might be like there. I have no close Palestinian or Israeli friends. I’ve never studied Middle Eastern politics. My knowledge of international affairs is limited at best.

Jewish father and son

And yet, it seems as if I’m expected to have an opinion. Everyone else does. I’ve spent the past few days reading posts on Facebook. I’ve been following links. I’ve been reading newspapers. I’ve been combing through blogs. And one thing that puzzles me is how anyone, anyone not directly caught up in it all or an expert on the subject, can categorically say that they support one side or the other, without question.

I have questions. Lots of them.

How come the stats I see show more Palestinian civilian casualties than Israelis? Could it be that Israelis better protect their civilians while Hamas urges Palestinians to stay put? And storing rockets in schools can’t be safe, can it? I don’t know.

By all accounts, Israel is on the receiving end of more attacks than it makes. And apparently it has offered no military response to many rocket and mortar attacks in recent months. So why then is it the bad guy in this mess? I don’t know.

Graffiti on Bethlehem wall

Yes the photos of dead kids and dead women are horrendous. The thought of killing kids, any kid, is beyond comprehension. The civilian death toll is abhorrent. Civilian casualties in any war are tragic – but they are a fact of war.  I’m not condoning, I’m not excusing. I’m just saying. For as long as man has been alive, we’ve been killing each other and nothing makes that right.

Graffiti on Bethlehem wall

In today’s technology-driven world, soundbites and photos are practically instantaneous. We see death and rockets and mortars and hear cries and pleas and our hearts bleed for what is happening – and we react. We’re human. But are we are seeing an emotional, knee-jerk and all too human response to a situation that could well be being manipulated (however intentionally or unintentionally) by the world’s media and its sources? I don’t know. I do know that paper will take any print.  I lack faith in the media to report accurately, with full context, exactly what is happening. Which is why I read, and read, and read – and am still none the wiser. For every answer, I find two more questions. Does anyone really know?

I don’t know much. I don’t profess to be any kind of expert. Yet I can’t forget what happened in Bosnia, when the Serbs were castigated by the world’s press, and often rightly so, but equally often as a result of the machinations of the Bosnian PR machine. Even today, Serbia still struggles to shake a reputation that, to my little mind, should equally have been shared with Bosnia. The Serbs I know (and I know quite a few from all walks of life) are, without exception, some of the nicest, kindest, most hospitable, most intelligent people I know and still they’re cast as the bad guys. I am not comparing like with like here, or equating then and now. That would be ridiculous. I just want to voice an underlying concern I have about the possibility of  moral manipulation.

Israel Paletsine

Israel isn’t without fault. It takes at least two sides to wage a war. What must it be like for Palestinians to live behind a wall, in a veritable prison? Or to have had to give up their land to create a nation state for Jews? I don’t know. Yes, I read the testimonies on the Wall and I was moved, very moved. And shocked, and horrified. And yet I wonder what must it be like for Israelis living in a country where their immediate neighbours would prefer if they were wiped off the face of the Earth and their collective might could well accomplish this? I don’t know that, either.

Some say that international laws are being broken, that Israel is in violation by allowing its citizens to live in occupied lands, that  it is edging inch by inch into forbidden territory.Others say that Israel has no rights to the land at all. But decisions were made, rightly or wrongly. Some Hungarians might prefer the Triannon Treaty to be reversed just as some Irish might prefer to see a united Ireland. Are they right? Are they wrong? I don’t know.

Israeli fence

Extremists seem to be ruling the day – people who have little or no interest in finding a compromise in a war that is, to my uneducated and unedified mind, about who gets to keep what land. This latest round in a war that has been going on for decades started when Hamas reportedly killed three Israeli students in June. Israeli extremists reportedly responded. There is no denying the numbers…Palestinians are faring very badly, urged are they are to ignore Israel’s warnings of pending attack and stay home. And should they have to move? Are they right to stay? I don’t know – I’m not there. Surely though we need to look behind the numbers. Behind the images?

Wall in Bethlehem

I see petitions to expel Israeli ambassadors. But isn’t diplomacy the only way out of this mess? I see petitions to place sanctions on Israel but who will this really affect? I feel a rising wall of revulsion against Israel and I worry that this won’t stop at hating a country but will degenerate into hating individuals. What must it be like, as an Israeli, to be living anywhere in the world right now? I don’t know. What must it be like as a Palestinian to have your leaders tell you to be brave in the face of death? I don’t know that either.

There is so much that I don’t know. I will continue to ask questions. You might continue to answer them. But then I will ask how you know what you know and why you think as you do. It’s a given that it’s inexcusably wrong to kill kids – but even to this uneducated, unedified mind, there has to be more to it than that. It’s not that simple.

If I don’t agree with your opinion, or I don’t take as gospel what you are saying, or I don’t apologise for asking questions that you believe make me partial to Israel, am I wrong? I can’t pretend to know what I don’t. I can’t see how I could ever take a side without speaking to those involved, without living the lives they live, without growing up in a culture that is so alien to the one I know. If you are happy to do so, if you know enough to make your mind up and debate your corner, hats off to you. But please, don’t feel the need to convince me of the same.

By all means engage me in conversation. Let’s have a discussion. Feel free to share what you believe. But please, don’t evangelize. Be open to what  opinions I might have that may not tally with your own. Be open to questions I might ask, even if you don’t have the answers. And please, which ever side you are on, don’t make this about individuals. Nations act in the name of their citizens, but not each and every one of those citizens necessarily agrees.

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99 barriers

Last year, I saw a  famous wall – one I’d never heard of before, one I knew nothing about. But that was in Palestine. Last week, I saw another famous wall – one I’d never heard of before, one I knew nothing about. But it was in Northern Ireland. Shame on me.

IMG_2575 (800x600)At the end of last year, there were 99 barriers dividing nationalist and loyalist communities in Belfast. They take various shapes and sizes: 35 are metal fencing; 23 are a mix of solid wall and metal above; 14 involve fencing and vegetation; 12 are where roads are closed to vehicles and allow pedestrian access only; 8 are wall walls; and 7 are roads with gates that are closed at times. Some like the one pictured above (Cupar Way) are now famous. Built it 1969, this 4.5 m concrete wall is topped by 3 m of metal sheeting and 6 m of mesh fence and runs for about 800 m. It separates loyalist Shankhill Road from the nationalist Springfield area. The walls started to go up in the late 1960s when the Troubles kicked off. This, in a weird, unpalatable way, is understandable. In separating the Catholic and Protestant factions, they offered something in the way of security. But more have gone up since the 1994 Good Friday Agreement and some are still being added to today, despite talks of bringing them down. Since 2008, three new ones have gone up, two more have been fortified, and three have come down. And yes, people are keeping track.

IMG_2572 (800x600) (2)The majority are owned by the Department of Justice (58). Some are owned by the NI Housing Executive (18). Some are even thought to be privately owned (6) with three belonging to the Department for Regional Development. Six go unclaimed and other organisations own one or two.  When I read this, I was surprised. I’d never before given much thought to who owns these types of barriers, or thought of them in terms of maintenance.

Though many of the walls now have gates that open during the day, I can see where ‘going the long way around’ takes on a whole new meaning in the city. Mind you, given what the walls separate, perhaps no one really wants to get to the other side in a hurry. The Observer ran a piece in 2012 that is worth a read.

IMG_2581 (800x600) (800x600)IMG_2580 (800x600)IMG_2583 (800x600)Names like Dali Lama and Bill Clinton feature, too, alongside their various words of wisdom. People are encouraged to add their messages and some of the Black Cabs carry markers in case you’re not packing your own. Yet even here the message is mixed. And perhaps this same mixed message exists when it comes to discussions about whether or not these walls should come down. When you live with what’s known locally as a Belfast conservatory, the thoughts of leaving your backyard open to whatever every might be flung over from the other side would probably be enough to vote to keep them in place.

IMG_2587 (800x483) (800x483)At the bottom of the Falls Road, there’s another wall – an International Peace Wall. This series of murals speaks to conflicts in other parts of the world and at home, too. It was here, that just last month, a newly painted mural depicting Gerry Adams as a ‘peacemaker, a leader, and a visionary’ was paint bombed and subsequently  replaced by one ‘supporting a campaign for an independent review into the killing of 11 civilians by the Parachute Regiment in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast in 1971’.

IMG_2596 (800x584)It’s said that at one stage in Belfast there were more Israeli and Palestinian flags flying than there were Union Jacks and Tricolors (read nothing into the parallel order here as I’m undecided as to which side would support which, but given the welcome I received in Palestine, I’d harbor a guess at it being right). It seems that divides across the world gravitate towards each other in some sort of global solidarity.

IMG_2598 (800x600)The more I saw, the more I wondered whether people living locally actually see these walls any more? Or is their attention focused on them by the band of black cabs that pull up alongside disgorging camera-toting tourists eager to digitalise what for many might well be seen as a type of romanticised violence. As one of the aforementioned CTTs, I opted to stay in the cab and listen to what my cabbie had to say (more on that later).

IMG_2602 (800x593) (2)I’m often chastened but never surprised by how little I know. Or perhaps I did know at one stage but have chosen to forget. Yet as our cabbie explained the murals, I felt a tad ashamed of my ignorance. Particularly as Michael Stone has been in the news lately, too. His one-man attack on an IRA funeral killing four and leaving 50 others injured made the world news in 1988 as it was captured live on video. He was released as part of the Good Friday agreement in 2000, but a second attempt on the lives of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in 2006 sent him back inside.

IMG_2600 (800x600)There is so much about Northern Ireland that I don’t understand. So much history that I think had to be lived through to be really understood. Although things might have gotten better in recent years, the divide is still there, still visible. And while some might hold out hope that terrorism might be replaced by tourism,  I wonder.

 

 

 

2013 Grateful 4

IMG_8447 (591x800)I’m a fan of graffiti… not the aimless posts of I wuz ‘ere or the the like … but the clever kind, the witticisms, the art. So on that night a few weeks ago, when I crossed from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, I was so absorbed in reading the graffiti on the wall that I didn’t really notice the wall itself. Having only just landed, I wasn’t nearly brave enough to do something stupid like take out my camera, but emboldened by some degree of familiarity that came with five days of residence in Bethlehem, I got up early one morning and, accompanied by the very able (and somewhat imposing) MM, headed back to said wall to take some photos.

IMG_8564 (800x600)IMG_8466 (800x599)IMG_8526 (800x600)Bethlehem is contained within parts of what is known as the Israeli West Bank barrier – a division, that when finished, will run about 700 km in total. The jury is out on what it’s actual name is: Israelis describe it as a separation, anti-terrorist, or security fence while the Palestinians call it a racial segregation or apartheid wall. The BBC prefers to call it a barrier.

IMG_8476 (800x599)IMG_8446 (800x600)Right now, the 8-metre (26 ft) wall that runs alongside Bethlehem for about 15 km is an open page for graffiti artists the world over. Probably the most famous of them all, Banksy, visited in 2005 and left his mark on the city. Unfortunately, so early in the morning, the Banksy shop hadn’t yet opened for business (good to see, though, that some enterprising soul is making a living from the art).

IMG_8508 (800x592)As we wandered roundIMG_8534 (597x800), what stuck me most forcibly was that I hadn’t even known this wall existed. Unlike the Berlin Wall, it doesn’t seem to attract the same degree of infamy. Once again, I was reminded at how sheltered I’ve been and how little I really know about what is going on in the world. It’s as if I live in a bubble far removed from anything bad or evil. And while I might read about what is happening elsewhere, I can’t really even begin to understand what it must be like for people living with this every day. For me, crossing over from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and having to walk through the checkpoint was a little exhilarating the first time; an inconvenience the second. To accept this as part of everyday life would, I’m sure, not take very long, but what is lost in that acceptance?

IMG_8538 (800x600)I stopped dead at one point and felt a surge of helplessness. What could I possibly do that would in any small way make a difference? There is so much bad going on in the world, so much injustice, that were I to sit and think about it all, I’d surely go slowly mad.

Tomorrow, I’ll share some wall stories with you – but today, as I look back on the last few weeks of travel and the different places I’ve been, I’m truly grateful that the novelty of packing a suitcase and going hasn’t yet worn off. It might be fading just a fraction, but the chance to see new places, experience new things, and create new memories is one for which I’m eternally grateful.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out the post Grateful 52

Sculptures and silhouettes

I’ve a great imagination. It doesn’t take much for me to imagine myself somewhere, to transport myself to another time and place, and let my mind wander to the point that the goose bumps are followed by tears. Hey, I used to cry at Coronation Street!

IMG_8792 (800x599)Walking up to top of Mount Bental, past the sign for the quite surreally namedcoffee chop, Coffee Anan (which means coffee cloud), and a host of peculiar iron sculptures, I wasn’t quite prepared for the emotion that would surface in the next hour or so. To be honest, I was clueless. During the Yom Kippur War of 1973, when the Syrians attacked the Golan Heights with 1500 tanks and 1000 artillery pieces, Israel matched this might with 160 tanks and 60 artillery pieces. Syria’s aim: to reclaim the territory that had been seized in 1967. Israel’s aim: not to give an inch. Heavy casualties resulted and the valley below was christened the Valley of Tears.

IMG_8794 (800x600)My first reaction to the black metal silhouettes was one close to despair. I’d had enough of commercialism; I wanted some authenticity, not yet another show, purpose-built for tourists. But as I wandered, eavesdropping on the talks been given by various guides to visitors from the USA, Europe, and Australia, the magnitude of what had taken place, here, 1165 metres above sea level, sank in.

IMG_8815 (600x800)For nearly 20 years (1948-1967), when Syria controlled the Heights, it regularly bombarded northern Israel from this point. In 1967, when Israel came out atop the Six-Day War, it won itself this strategic vantage point from where it could closely watch Syria’s movement. It’s also of vital importance for water as the area accounts for more than a third of Israel’s total water supply. And as was repeatedly mentioned in the days I was there, long after the geopolitics have been resolved, the fight for water in the region will continue.

IMG_8800In response to the apparent mobilization of its Arab neighbours, early on the morning of June 5, Israel staged a sudden preemptive air assault and destroyed Egypt’s air force on the ground; later that day, it incapacitated a great deal of the Jordanian and Syrian air power as well. Without cover from the air, the Arab armies were left vulnerable to attack, and, as a result, the Israeli victory on the ground was also overwhelming. By the time the United Nations cease-fire came into effect on June 10, Israeli units had driven Syrian forces back from the Golan Heights, taken control of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, and driven Jordanian forces from the West Bank. Notably, the Israelis were left in sole control of  Jerusalem. The warfare resulted in the creation of hundreds of thousands of refugees and brought more than one million Palestinians in the occupied territories under Israeli rule.

IMG_8803 (800x584)IMG_8805 (600x800)Wandering down the steep steps into the tunnels that connected the bunkers, it wasn’t difficult to imagine the claustrophobia, the frustration, the fear that the soldiers must have felt holed up, shelling the guts out of the land below. As recently as May this year, shells were exchanged across the border and the wars of old show little sign of abating.

In the valley beneath, fruit and vegetables grow peacefully. Tourists wander through the vineyards. And life continues with a sense of what passes for normalcy. I had hoped to come away with a better sense of where my sympathies lies but the more I learn, the more confused I am becoming. And I’m increasingly wondering at the minds of those who can so clearly come down on one side or the other. Amidst the interminable shades of grey, I can see very little black and white.

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The valley of cheers

The last thing I expected to see in the Holy Land was a vineyard, which, given the fabled wedding of Cana, was somewhat silly of me. Back in 1967, when Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria in the closing stages of the six-day war, I don’t for a minute imagine that growing wine was top of its reasons for doing so. But in 1976, after a failed attempt by Syria to reclaim the area during the Middle East War in 1973 (when the heavy tank action resulted in the valley being christened the Valley of Tears), the first planting took place. Now, about 1500 acres are home to 17 vineyards, 16 of which are on Golan Heights and one is in Upper Galilee. Each of the vineyards is within a 40/50  minute drive of the winery in Katzrin.

IMG_8836 (800x599)IMG_8865 (800x590)The hills and mountains in the region climb from 400 to 1200 metres and the three wine regions produce just about all the wines I’m familiar with … and more. The Golan Heights winery itself is  owned by four kibbutzim (collectives), four moshavim (cooperatives) and the Galilee and Golan Heights Vineyards, Inc. It’s here that 40% of Israeli wine exports is produced alongside 20% of the local market share. Suitable soils, high altitudes, and the right topography caught the attention of some visiting experts from California who reckoned the region was perfect for vine growing – v0lcanic soil, rich in acid, that drains well. Ancient stones unearthed show reliefs of grapes and suggest that this wasn’t exactly a new idea, just one that had perhaps lapsed over the years.

IMG_8847 (582x800)Northern Golan is home to Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Viognier and Pinot Noir (and others I didn’t recognise). Central Golan has the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah (and more I’ve never come across). And Southern Golan has Muscat Canelli as well as its share of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. You can ski on Mount Hermon in the winter and an hour later, swim in the Sea of Galilee. Something for everyone.

IMG_8869 (800x600)About 300 hundred containers ranging in size from the massive 200 000 litre tanks to the much smaller 1000 litre ones hold enough wine to fill 5.8 million bottles each year. Every tank is precisely controlled to ensure that its contents do what they need to do before being aged in French oak barrels, each with a working life of no more than six years. White wines age from 6 to 8 months while the reds go from 6 to 26 months, depending on the age of the barrel. Humidifiers run constantly to keep the wood from cracking and to prevent the wine evaporating through the walls. The history of each barrel is captured on a computerised bar code and the assembly line is mind-boggling to watch.

IMG_8878 (800x578)Everyone has his job… from ensuring that the labels go on straight, to adding the inserts, to unboxing previously boxed wines for specialised branding. I could have watched it for hours. Anywhere from IMG_8886 (800x589)15 to 20% of the bottles are boxed and then later, once the orders come in, unboxed and labelled for US, German, Far Eastern, and domestic markets. A massive blue Japanese robot called Bottleman lifts the boxes onto pallets in preparation for their journey to the table. Everything runs like clockwork. It’s hard to believe such capacity, used as I am to the family wineries in Hungary where the closest thing I’ve seen to a conveyor belt is granny passing the bottle to grandad to fill it from the barrel.

 

IMG_8894 (600x800)IMG_8896 (600x800)IMG_8897 (600x800)The wine-tasting that followed  included instructions on everything from how to properly use a corkscrew to which wine is best to eat with ice cream. And they certainly ain’t cheap.  I was tempted by the Yarden Muscat as it has brandy added to it (that’s a combination I haven’t tried before), but invested instead in a bottle of Rosé to be broken open on some special occasion.

Interesting how this was one of my favourite spots this trip – and not a cross or a relic to be seen anywhere.

 

 

 

The shepherds’ field

I can read the book or see the movie. I can’t do both. Well, I can, but any time I have, I’ve been disappointed. Nicole Kidman in as Ada Monroe in Cold Mountain? Leonardo DiCaprio as Richard in The Beach? And I won’t even mention what’s his name as Jack Reacher!

I was brought up on The Bible. I used to read a passage every night. I know the ins and outs, the characters, the plots … and being in Bethlehem is a little like being on set; being in the movie rather than watching it.

IMG_7639 (800x646)The Shepherd’s Field is home to a grotto marking the place some think the angel appeared and told the three shepherds of the coming of Christ. The modern church – The Church of the Angels – was designed by Antonio Barluzzi, known as the Architect of the Holy Land, back in 1954. It’s a lovely space. Built to suggest the open sky under which the angel appeared, to my uneducated architectural mind, it captures the essence of the moment.

IMG_7644 (800x600)The church has three frescos: one where the angel announces the birth of Jesus; a second of the shepherds in adoration; and a third of their return to Egypt.

IMG_7647 (589x800)IMG_7642 (800x599)Mind you, there’s said to be a 300-year gap in the literature – or at least in the documenting of where these biblical happenings actually happened – IMG_7641 (800x600)so this, like many other spots in the region, is subject to debate. Whether or not the angel appeared in Beit Sahur is under question. That said, it certainly doesn’t take from the beauty of the place.

Underneath  is a cave that was in use a church by the Greek Orthodox until 1955. And from the side of the excavations we could see some Israeli settlements in Palestine. Quite strange to see them nudging their way in and I have to wonder why the Palestinians don’t just build on the land instead.

IMG_7666 (800x586)IMG_7665 (800x600)There are about 1.5 million Palestinians with Israeli passports living in Israel. When I asked how this went down with those who have stayed at home, I was told that it’s not an issue. They might earn their money in Israel, but they spend it in Palestine. Here, they like the US dollar. The ATM offered me Jordanian dinar (?) and the street vendors are happy with shekels. Seems like money is money… I should try to see how far I’d get with some Hungarian forints.

 

 

 

Geographically challenged

Yesterday, I thought I was heading to Israel. This morning I woke up in Palestine. Perhaps I should have read the itinerary more carefully. Or perhaps not. When asked at immigration what my plans were, I said that I was going to Tel Aviv and then to Jerusalem. That I was meeting up with a scout group from Serbia and Macedonia (turns out there are six countries on this trip). And that no, I didn’t have any friends or family in Israel. Two out of three ain’t bad I suppose.

Waiting to be identified at the airport, I didn’t feel any anxiety despite my lack of preparedness. As each passenger on my flight made their way towards the exit, I stood centre concourse with by bag wondering what I’d do if nobody showed. I still thought I was staying in Tel Aviv. Not for the first time I marvelled at how easily I abdicate responsibility when someone else takes charge. If I don’t have to make decisions, I switch off completely.

http://jewfondue.blogspot.com/

http://jewfondue.blogspot.com/

On the drive to the wall (the military structure that separates Israel from Palestine on the outskirts of Bethlehem) we passed many Hasidic Jews (not at all strange really, considering we were in Israel). They wear their hats set back on their heads, showing lots of forehead. Black suits and dark shirts made it feel as if we were on the set of a black and white movie and the a fleeting notion black-and-white approaches snagged somewhere in my brain. There seemed to be mainly men, many of whom were pushing prams. Young boys, teens, older men … pushing prams. I’m not sure why that struck me as odd…but it did.

The first twinges of embarrassment at my complete ignorance of the geopolitical situation in the region started to make themselves felt when Serge began to explain to me about the Green Line: the demarcation lines set out in the 1949 Armistice Agreements between Israel and its neighbours after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and also used to mark the line between Israel and the territories captured in the Six-Day War, including the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and Sinai Peninsula (the last has since been returned to Egypt as part of the 1979 peace treaty). The name derives from the green ink used to draw the line on the map while the talks were going on.

The plan was that we would take a shuttle (one of the many mini-buses that ferry passengers to Jerusalem from the airport at Tel Aviv) to the line and then use one of the enterprising local drivers to ferry us through the checkpoint into Bethlehem. Each trip nets the company $200 although the drivers themselves, working 16-hour days might net $1300 in a month. Despite this, our chap was well happy and constantly laughing and smiling. When the ten well-travelled bodies in his van began to hum, he passed around a sprig of basil. A natural air freshener that I have made note to try.

When we arrived at the wall, I was glad I had company. We were five in all so the Macedonians (having waited for me at the airport for two hours) went in the first car. The driver was supposed to come back for us … but didn’t. As we waited on the side of the litter-strewn road in the shadow of the wall I was itching to take some photos but was advised not to. They’re serious about their military installations.

Eventually we walked through. We met old-fashioned steel turnstiles and a maze of cage-like passageways lined with high railings. Stumbling over uneven pathways I was grateful yet again that I wasn’t on my own. Even if it was Serge’s first time in 15 years make the crossing on foot, at least he could speak the language. The passageway opened into a cul-de-sac where half a dozen yellow cabs stood waiting. The drivers greeted us like old friends asking where we’d come from. Judging by their enthusiasm, Ireland is popular in Palestine. A couple who had seen us waiting on the other side approached and asked if they could be of help; they thought we were trying to go to Israel and had turned back. They offered to drive us to our hotel. I couldn’t help but be impressed at the genuine warmth of the welcome and the constant smiles of the people. It was like old home week. One of the drivers told me that John Carey was also expected to pass through later …

IMG_7633 (800x600)IMG_7634 (800x600)At the hotel, having checked in, had a beer with some of the others, and Skyped home, I ventured out to my balcony to check the view. Not quite what I’d expected. It seems that inside is more important than outside when it comes to aesthetics in this part of the world – the view mightn’t be much but the hotel itself is lovely.

As Day 1 of the journey dawns, breakfast beckons and suitably attired for what they’re calling a ‘church day’, I’m ready to see more of Bethlehem and what it might offer.

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