Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Garden of Gethsemane, birthplace of Christ

Just while we're on the subject of Jerusalem and Jesus Christ, here's a picture of the Garden of Gethsemane with its olive trees, where according to the story Jesus was (allegedly) betrayed by Judas.. who later hanged himself from one of these trees, though which one isn't marked. It's directly opposite the walled Old City and should you wish to get a taxi anywhere, there are groups of cabbies hanging about just on the corner down from here. Very helpful lads. Only the equivalent of £40 for the 30-minute ride to Bethlehem, though I got the bus from Nablus Road bus station in the Arabic part of town where I was staying for £1.20. Just up the hill from here is the Church of the Ascension where Christ (allegedly) ascended into heaven. That cost £1 in. But I guess it was worth it to see it.

To the left you see the spot where Christ was (allegedly) born. Does that statement need to have allegedly in brackets? I guess no one doubts that he lived: after all he is recognised by Muslims as a prophet. Anyway, this is a shrine in the basement of a church in Bethlehem that's now one of the holiest spots in Christendom. Six feet away is a bench where the so-called Three Wise Men unveiled gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. It'd be great to have a moment to reflect on this - I mean, I was brought up a Christian, fer Chrissakes - but pressure from tour parties is intense. Just snapping a photo of the spot without half a dozen people in the frame was quite an achievement. But my feelings of well-being towards my fellow humans (which I naturally exhibit frequently and without embarrassment) took a knock on the way back to Jerusalem. As I walked back to the Jerusalem-bound bus stop the bus pulled away but got stopped at lights. I ran after it, and the driver let me on. I paid my £1.20 and settled down to a nice trip back, taking in the Separation Wall that now divides Arab and Israeli communities along the West Bank border. But the bus was pulled into a checkpoint and we were all ordered to get off by Israeli Defence Force guards with menacing machine guns, with me being the only foreigner on board. Unfortunately the papers of one Palestinian woman didn't satisfy the Israeli guards, who turned her back and ordered the driver pull her belongings from the bus. When, moments later, one of the guards inspected my passport and smiled at me, waving me though with a seemingly over-friendly "How are you today?" I got a sense of what life was like for ordinary Palestinians trying to go about their normal business.. and how lucky I was not to have to go through that every day of my life.

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