When you arrive in Israel, one of the questions you will be asked at customs is “will you be visiting any Palestinian territories?” Your obvious answer would have to be “no”, if you plan on visiting Bethlehem.
Why would you even want to go to Bethlehem? Whether you are religious or not, you probably have heard of Jesus Christ at some point in your life. Regardless of your beliefs, you have to admit he definitely has one of the biggest religious significance in the world.
According to many historical sources, the Church of Nativity is the exact birthplace of Jesus Christ. It is also a popular pilgrimage spot for many tourists across the globe. Many individuals would follow the exact journey that Mary and Joseph took from Damascus gate in Old Jerusalem, all the way to the Church of Nativity.
So how do you reach this world famous UNESCO site if the Israeli government doesn’t want you entering Palestinian territory?
Organize a Trip to Bethlehem By Taxi
If you are a backpacker, chances are, you will have to taxi there. The taxis that are allowed to enter Bethlehem without being rejected at the Palestinian border is located at Damascus Gate, just outside Jerusalem.
At Damascus gate, you will notice a few taxi drivers who will be more than happy to take you there for a price. My group of four paid 300 shekels (about $100 CAD) for this trip. You may also arrange to see the Graffiti Wall, formally known as the “Israeli West Bank Barrier”, from the Palestinian side, and leave your mark there.
For those of you who are wondering, the Israeli West Bank Barrier was constructed by Israel to prevent terrorist bombings. The wall proved to be effective as the number of terror attacks from 73 to 9 over the span of 7 years. However, the construction of the wall came with a price: reduced freedom, loss of land, increased difficulty accessing educational and medical services from the Israeli side for Palestinians.
From my personal experience, the Church of Nativity is a must see site if you are planning a trip to Israel. I have never felt unsafe during the duration of my visit, mainly due to the high volume of tourists also visiting the church. On arrival, you may see tour guides offering you promises of their ability to bypass lineups, but save your money and decline their offer. Trust me, the church is well marked so you shouldn’t have any problems navigating.
The Graffiti Wall is another great place to visit for some amazing photos and if you wish, you may also leave your “mark”.