Christmas in Israel and Palestine - an unforgettable journey to the Holy Land is a travelogue written by Anna Le Dous
Christmas in Israel and reunification in Palestine
"Be extra careful throughout Palestine," the State Department's website said.
The warnings are many, and the media do their part to deter tourists by telling about the tensions between Israel og Palestine. One has heard of Bethlehem from the Bible and from stories about the birth of Jesus. Now I wanted to experience Christmas in Israel, in the Church of the Nativity and at the same time visit my Palestinian friend. And luckily, Christmas peace was able to sink into the hometown of Christmas.
Lorees and I got to know each other at Løgumkloster Folk High School in 2004. She lives on the West Bank. The high wall that separates the West Bank from Israel prevents her from traveling freely. In 2008, I invited her to spend Christmas with my parents in Denmark. She managed to get a visa because I made a written invitation where I signed that she could live with me and that I would cover her financially during the period she stayed in Denmark.
That was the last time we had seen each other. When I informed her that my mother and I had planned to spend Christmas in Israel with her family this time, she replied, “I can't wait to see you. Thank you so much, that you will come to visit us here. ” Not many guests from abroad are visited when living in Palestine, because many Europeans choose other destinations.
Whether that is truly dangerous, or whether the media plants an unfounded fear in people's heads, I do not know. At least I experienced that friends and acquaintances in the weeks leading up to my trip asked if I dared to go down there now that there was unrest. "Aren't there always unrest?" I replied, for I am more worried about getting the flu than about being exposed to something unpleasant on a trip.
As I said, Lorees was happy with the announcement of my visit. She was looking forward to seeing me and was also proud to be able to show off her country and be my guide.
I flew to Tel Aviv; the city which, among other things, is known for being the gay capital of the world. The city with room for differences. The city with promenade, party and colors. The city you should not go to if you are the type who goes to bed early.
I'll never be that type. At the airport we were picked up by a disability taxi from the company Israel4all, which I had booked from home. I had been promised “a large van”, and based on that description I had imagined a minibus of at least the same size as my own.
My mom, helper and I as well as our luggage could just be in the car, but there had also not been room for as much as an extra handbag. Everything is relative. An American would have understood something different by “a large van”…
Crawler mentality and driving ramps
Even if you have traveled a lot, you always learn something new. I learned that when you book transport from home via a website, which you often have to, because there is only one company that offers disability-friendly transport, you have to ask for pictures of the vehicle so you can compare it with the price. , and make sure you do not get cheated.
I know the Arab 'creeper mentality' from the bazaar, where the skilled sellers argue why exactly their silk scarf costs twice what the neighbor sells, which looks confusingly similar, but which is of course of a much lower quality.
In such countries, the price of the item is not set in advance, which you forget when you agree on the price of a vehicle at home in front of the computer. Lorees had a temporary permit to cross the border between Israel and Palestine and came to Tel Aviv to meet me there.
The joy of reunion was great. There was a lot to talk about when one had not seen each other for more than ten years. On the drive from Tel Aviv to Bethlehem we thus had an extra passenger in the already far too small handicap car, and when I had tried but had not had success with the negotiation of a larger car, the solution was to put all the luggage up on the roof. Fortunately, it did not rain that day.
We crossed the border crossing and the Great Wall between Israel and Palestine and drove from a modern western society into a poor concrete area. On the Palestinian side, one immediately noticed traffic chaos and people speaking loudly - the real Arab culture, which seems overwhelming when coming from the Western order and structure.
We went for a walk through the city and wanted to enter the Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, where the same afternoon a service was held, which was broadcast to Washington. As a precaution, I checked availability before the event started. A long and solid wooden ramp wound along the stairs and around several corners.
It had probably been intended to have a practical function, but in reality it was most of all an architectural element. It turned out, when I excitedly drove up the ramp, that the door it led up to was locked.
The pastor and church servant were put on the task of finding the key to the door, which had apparently been lost. They did not find it, so I had to follow the ramp down again while I wondered when there might have been a wheelchair user inside the church.
January-Christmas in Israel-Palestine in orthodox manner
Christmas Eve was a different experience. For breakfast we were the only guests in the hotel, which we wondered as there were lots of tourists in the city. Subsequently, the receptionist said that the hotel had had many reservations, but the guests had canceled.
It happens, she explained, that the Israelis dramatize minor incidents on the Palestinian side, so that tourists feel more secure living in Jerusalem - ie. on the Israeli side of the wall - from where they in large buses make day trips to Palestine and visit the Church of the Nativity. Thus, tourists put the money in Israel while hotels in Palestine stand empty.
"But here with us it is generally very safe," she continued. Security was felt at least later in the day, when there were more military in the streets than there were guests at the midnight service. From home I had tried to get tickets to the Church of the Nativity, but they were sold out. "I'll probably get tickets for you." said Lorees convincingly, and she did.
The Arab culture is different from ours. If you have the right connections and have the speech gifts in order, then you can fix everything at short notice, because nothing is more solid than that it can be changed. And if you meet someone you know on your way, the time is forgotten and the daily schedule is put on time. Before we went to the midnight service at the Church of the Nativity, Lorees invited us to dinner at her sister's home.
The family is Christian - Greek Orthodox - and does not celebrate Christmas until the sixth of January. The dinner consisted of neither duck nor roast pork, but a wealth of delicious Arabic specialties. On the first and second day of Christmas, we made excursions with the only handicap taxi with lift in Palestine that Lorees had provided. We were at Echlas' home in a Palestinian refugee camp, where she lives with one of her siblings.
Echlas har Spinal muscle atrophy. Her helpers are young from Germany, which typically takes a few months to Palestine after high school to volunteer. The volunteers live with Echlas and help her. In return, they receive free board and lodging and Arabic tuition. After three months, they travel back and she has to find a new volunteer again.
Concepts such as “recruitment” and “retention” of helpers take on a completely different meaning in such a system. You get to put our relationship in perspective when you experience how life with muscle wasting can also be. The last few days we lived in Jerusalem. The three religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam all connect their history with events that have taken place in this city.
The Holy Land
To the Jews, Jerusalem is the city where the temple stood, of which the Wailing Wall is today the only remnant left. For Christians, it is the city where Jesus was crucified. For the Muslims, it was from here that Muhammad ascended through the seven heavens on his nocturnal journey. Thus, each religion has its own territory in the city.
Bethlehem and Jerusalem are a quarter of an hour's drive apart, but these are two different worlds. Those who live on the Israeli side of the high concrete wall can easily cross the border, while my friend, Lorees, who lives on the Palestinian side, is not allowed to cross the border with her own car and can only cross it if she has a permission.
I'm excited about where in the world Lorees and I are going to spend Christmas together next time. Friendships across borders and cultures are inspiring. If you maintain such friendships, you will have experiences you would never have had otherwise. Even the tallest concrete walls cannot separate friends.
Merry Christmas & Happy New Year Israel and the Holy Land.
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