Friday, December 15, 2006

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Let there be no barrier to your Christmas joy. We hope that 2007 brings prosperity and peace...or at least a little good will
Seasons Greetings, one and all
(...and a nod to my favourite social researcher for sharing this postmodern image. Graphics are by Banksy, the radical Shoreditch UK graffiti artist, "vandalised oil painting 031"

A daytrip to what amounts to a Jerusalem suburb felt a bit like a mugging. First, the pimply security minders refused entry to our car and insisted that it was against the rules to take a rented vehicle beyond "the fence". "The rule of law will be enforced on my watch," insisted a youngster, caressing his rifle and refusing to look us in the eye. But he couldn't cite the regulation number (and , in fact, journalists technically are allowed to take rental cars inside.) He also refused to talk to any higher-ups on my phone, as it could be a risky ruse to blow him up, and he declined a suggestion to ring them up himself. We went across on foot. Sigh.

The bored Israeli visa stamper kept gabbing to her boyfriend on her cell phone, and we walked through a series of gates and x-rays until we got to the taxi stand on Palestinian turf.
Here, the pace quickened. In the week before Christmas, traditionally high season in Bethlehem, the streets are echoingly empty. We were swarmed--and felt like hapless pigeons about to be plucked. Vendors and taxi drivers were cutting deals over imagined profiteering, and we turned out to be a bitter disappointment for not digging as deeply into our pockets as they had hoped. A Fatah cab driver and an armed Hamas trinket-seller quarreled over us.
Santa Claus, strung up on a pole near the police station, looked rather like he was on the gallows.

Even inside the Church of the Nativity, the atmosphere felt tense. Impatient priests strongarmed visitors out of their way. Chanting and incense swining took precedence over gawkers. Thankfully, the line of Palestinians on the way out were courteous and extremely patient. They go through this twice a day, after all.

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