b'The outside of the Church of the Nativity.Oh Li\x1a le T\x16n Of Bethlehem Not So Littleas it was 160 km. I was quite stunned,we stopped, and I was gazing at a mas-because I know Mary made the trek insive wall, which spans over 700 kms in her last month of pregnancy on the backlength. It was built by the Israelis to pre-of a donkey.vent Palestinians from entering Israel. Of He explained to me, it was the expe- course, the Palestinians who have lived JONATHAN VAN BILSEN rience of being in the vicinity of whereon the land for thousands of years refer things happened that mattered and notto it as the apartheid wall.On a recent visit to the Middle East, Itheexactdetails.Well,thatcertainlyWe continued driving and entered the woke up very excited, as I was going tomade a lot of sense, and made it muchcity limits of Bethlehem. I was amazed leave Nazareth and visit Bethlehem, theeasier for me to grasp what I was piecingatwhat2,000yearscando.Expect-town where Christmas began. Nazarethtogether. ing tond a small village, I was now in was interesting, but nothing beat my en- We came to the Palestinian bordera city of 130,000, with thirty percent of thusiasm for visiting the manger, check- (Bethlehem lies in Palestine), and werethepopulationChristianandtherest ing out the donkeys and sheep, visitinggreeted by heavily armed guards, whoMuslim. I was concerned about security, with shepherds, and perhaps even buy- scrutinized our passports and our faces.but it seems everyone gets along. Un-ing some frankincense and myrrh. Interestingly,therearehuge,orangefortunately, tourism has taken over, and I met my guide in the lobby and wascamera boxes at the side of the road,anything that looks remotely sacred has abitdisappointedwhenwewalkedwhen you approach the checkpoint. Mybeen turned into a tourist site. through the parking lot to a car. I was ex- guide, Maher, explained they use facialMy mind had conjured up visions of pecting a donkey, hitched to a post readyrecognition software, and scan the facesrolling hills and small, stone buildings, to carry me to the birthplace of Christi- of the driver and front seat passenger,donkeys and oxen in the streets, and anity. Once we hit the road, I asked himprior to arriving at the border. how far it was. He told me about 2 hours,Shortly after crossing into PalestinePlease turn to page 71FOCUS - DECEMBER 201969'