A trip to Palestine: Bethlehem and Jericho

Visiting Palestine’s territories was never on my travel list, part of it due to the media portraying it as a dangerous area where often conflicts arise between Israeli and Palestinian military forces. Growing up as a child, I would often hear the expression “I am going to Palestine”, especially when mom was angry with me, meaning a place from which she will never return.

Little I knew that holy places of high importance for christianity are located right in the heart of Palestine, including the birth place of our Lord, Jesus Christ: Bethlehem.

While Palestinians are often being called “terrorists” by the news outlets, in fact most of the people wish to live their life in normality and to stop the never ending conflict with Israel. A desperate call for peace has been drawn in a form of a graffiti in Beit Sahour town, which was named the “Flower bomber”, transmitting a powerful message to every visitor.

Throw blessings not bombs.


The city of the bread

The town of Bethlehem is situated in the West Bank, 8 km south of Jerusalem and it’s translated as the “house of bread” in Arabic or “the house of meat” in Hebrew. What a better place could have God chose for the birth of His own son other than a town which contains the essence of christianity in a single word?

We crossed into Palestine without even realizing and even though there was a border in place our bus was not stopped for the regular passport control. One thing that immediately caught my attention was the different plate numbers of the cars (white with green). As the tour guide was about to explain, the cars having israeli plate numbers are not allowed into Palestine, with exception of tour busses driven by a Palestinian. The restriction seems to be impose by the Israeli government which wish to prevent the movement of their citizens inside the “enemy’s territories”. Keep in mind that same restrictions apply if you are planning to rent a car in Israel and drive it into Palestine.

The Church of Nativity

Our first stop was the Church of Nativity, the only religious establishment that managed to escape the fury of the Persians which invaded Palestine in 614. Moved by the depiction above the church entrance of the three magi wearing Persian gowns, the holy birth place of Jesus was spared.

The beauty of the church built on top of the grotto cave where more than 2000 years ago the baby Jesus was born didn’t come as a surprise. However, the inexplicable wave of energy that seemed to flow through the floor straight to my right foot made me wonder if the ancient stones that witnessed the most beautiful miracle of the humanity are trying to transmit me something. In fact it wasn’t the first but one of the forth times during my visit to the Holy land when I would experience the name inexplicable phenomenon.

By far the most impressive thing observed inside this holy place it’s an icon depicting Jesus Christ on one of the church’s columns. Even though Jesus it’s painted with his eyes wide opened when standing further away from the painting you will observe his eyes are gradually closing. This miracle isn’t visible to everyone and won’t appear in pictures/videos as much as you try. Pay attention to it as no tour guide will bring this to your attention.

In order to reach the actual place of birth you must descent into a narrow passage carved inside an ancient cave. Here, more than 2000 years ago, the Virgin Mary found shelter and gave birth to the baby Jesus.

A metallic star marks the exact location where the most beautiful miracle of Christianity took place and it represent the shinny star that appeared on the night sky during the biblical event. The location of the manger (stone formation where animals were fed) that was used as a crib for the new born it’s also preserved and it is found just steps away from the star.

The place of birth
The manger used as a crib

The Milk Grotto

From the Place of Nativity we walk to a nearby church, The milk grotto where the holy family found shelter during the Massacre of the innocents, right before escaping to Egypt. The tradition says the white color of the cave it was given by a drop of milk which have felt on the floor from Mary’s breast. Infertile couples of all faiths are visiting the church and collect some of the white chalk from the walls with the hope that they will be able to conceive a child.

The Milk Grotto it’s located few hundred meters away from the Nativity Church and can be easily accessed by foot.

The Shepherds field

We couldn’t leave Bethlehem behind before visiting The Shepherd’s field, one of the three locations marked by the archeologists as the possible place where the Angel of God has announced the born of Messiah to the shepherds. As per our tour guide (who was born and raised in Bethlehem), the place was not chosen by chance but for their people which are well known for their ability to gossip and to transmit the news with the speed of the light in an era where instagram and newspapers where not yet invented.


The oldest city of the world

From Bethlehem we drove all the way to Jericho, the first human establishment in the world with a history dating back more than 10000 years BC. Here, the modern excavation discovered 23 layers of ancient civilization but what makes this town even more special it’s his religious importance especially in the jewish faith. Jericho was the promised land, revealed to Mosses by God from the other side of the Jordan river. Mosses never entered Jericho, but other thousands of Israelis led by Joshua managed to destroy the walls of the citadel by walking around it for seven day as instructed by a divine voice. On the 7th day, after blowing their trumpets made of ram’a horns, the walls have miraculously colapsed, making it the first city conquered by the Israelis in Palestine.

The Mount of Temptation

Up the hill, stands tall the Mount of Temptation where Jesus was fasting for 40 days without food or water while asking for God’s right before starting his 3 years of preaching. Here, Jesus was tempted by the Devil three times: the ability of transforming the rocks into food to ease his hunger, domination over the land below him and pushing Him into suicide to test God’s willingness of saving him before touching the ground.

In order to reach the mountain you must book a cable car trip which will cost you approximately 15$. Beside the beautiful view over the ancient ruins and the new town of Jericho you will be able to remember all the prayers of your own faith and recite them during the 14 minutes ride to the top and back, especially if you are not passionate about heights.

Almost stuck in Palestine

The trip to Jericho didn’t come without a dose of fear. The conflicts between the two nations sharing the same land were developing after an alleged crime against an Israeli killed in Palestine region that day. Our tour was about to be canceled, however we were allowed to enter the city after being advised by the authorities to be cautious. The tension was floating in the air but what struck me the most was the vibe that I got while in Palestine. Compared with the lavish lifestyle of Israelis, people of Palestine live in complete poverty with houses that are about to colapse or lacking water and electricity, a subtile tactic to determine them to leave their beloved land behind and flee to a different country.

We got some real palpitations when trying to cross the border back to Israel. The Palestinian police force have redirected us from the fast track lane available for the tourists to the regular lane where hundreds of cars filled with locals and their lifetime belongings where trying to leave the region. This could have meant hours if not days of delay in a land which was very unstable at that moment. Thankfully our arabic driver was very persuasive and after pulling the bus back and forward several times and arguing badly with the border control officers we have managed to leave Palestine in a round of applauses. We were shocked to find out later on that the officers wanted to “teach” us a lesson about how it is to live in Palestine.

The only lesson I learned it was to never return. Shame that two people managed to destroy all the beautiful image that other Palestinians built about their country during my 7 days trip.

The biblical Sycamore tree

Our heroic bus driver not only brought us safe to Jerusalem but he also made several stops which were not part of our initial itinerary such as the Sycamore tree which plays an important role in the stories of the New Testament. A short man which happened to be a tax collector Zacchaeus, have climbed the tree in order to see Jesus while he was visiting Jericho and after having the Messiah stopping at his place for a night, he have donated half of his possessions to the poor and became a believer of Christianity/

The biblical Sycamore tree

Our beautiful day was organized by Judah Tours and booked via the Viator. I highly recommend it for your safe travel to the West bank region.

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