Getting to Bethlehem

Imagine what it would be like if Jesus’ mother Mary lived in Israel today. Or planned to go to Bethlehem next month – just to remember how it happened.

Ignoring, for the moment, the fact that Jewish people aren’t permitted entrance, can you picture what the trip would be like for Mary?

Would she be preparing now, knowing all too well from her trip with Joseph that roads can be unkind and hotels can be full? Would she be calling ahead to make a hotel reservation … but nothing too expensive please? Or packing her suitcase ahead of time, excited about revisiting the place her Messiah was born?

One thing we do know is that Mary would be factoring in extra travel time to get through the security barrier – or ‘wall’ – outside of Bethlehem.

Even traveling by car instead of donkey, the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem isn’t an easy one. Travelling in and around Jesus’ Judean birth-town is difficult for everyone, Jewish or not. And it’s not just travel plans that are more complicated now; the barrier outside town restricts life in other ways. Small Bethlehem businesses that used to sell goods in the city are impacted negatively …which affects the job market negatively … which affects the general economy. Socially, economically, politically and in other ways, life is different now.

Life is different now! And as Mary would know, living anywhere else in Israel is better for exactly the same reason. As an Israeli, she’d know all about her own chance of living longer because of the ‘wall’. She’d understand what this means for Jewish children on school-buses, shoppers in malls, people dining in restaurants and tourists visiting Israel. No question, Mary would be grateful just knowing there are fewer suicide attacks and terrorist incidents as a result.

And if she happened to have family in Jerusalem these days, she’d be even more grateful – because of the city’s close proximity to Bethlehem. Even if it meant never going back to Jesus’ birthplace again, she’d be thanking God for the barrier.

Not all Israelis feel that way however. Most – but not all.

We can empathize with the innocent people living in Bethlehem. Those who don’t deserve having security guards and weapons-checks blocking or delaying them. The cost to these people is a high one. And yet, with so much violence coming from Bethlehem, how else could the country protect the rest of its people?

Some disapprove of the wall for other reasons. A few are actually anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian … while still others believe the Bible promises the land to Israel  – and anything dividing it is evil.

Like so many other things in Israel, the barrier outside Bethlehem is controversial. And Mary could tell us that if she were here. Even though Judea and the rest of Israel can breathe easier now because of it, the wall – like Israel itself – has one thing to tell us:

There’s always another side to the story.


By Shari Menzel

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