Driving towards Bethlehem in West Bank is a bit adventurous. Navigation is not supported, so you follow Street 60 through Jerusalem and wait for signs until you’re able to follow them. Then slowly traffic decreases more and more, the street smaller and smaller and finally you turn left to cross the border. It looks like some entry to a garage. People hanging around in the shadow under trees. Big shopping bags between their legs and next to them. Buses and cabs are waiting. It feels tensed in so many ways.
When we arrived a bus was backing in the small street, which leads to the border. Another car followed. But we wanted to know whats going on. Heavy armed police on the parking lot to the left. Waiting under big umbrellas, which protected them from the sun. A nice lady in uniform informed us, that the entry is closed. There would be some trouble going on. “You know it’s Ramadan. Then it’s a bit difficult.”, she said. The border would be closed for 20 Minutes, then we could pass. We asked if it would be safe to pass then. “Are you Jewish?” – “No.” – “Then absolutely!”. She was really nice, friendly and smiled. In such an atmosphere it sounds weird that it’s safe to cross the border later on. But it definitely was safe for tourists like us. We didn’t feel threatened or in danger at any time. Anyway, we used the time to get something to drink and parked under a tree and waited like the others, until we saw cars passing without turning back.
I read about the wall before, even saw it from further away, when we entered Jerusalem from the Dead Sea almost 2 years ago. But without seeing it so close it’s really hard to imagine. It’s high. It’s massive. It’s depressing. After driving through the wall there was a huge traffic chaos. The Palestinian side closed the passage and tens of taxis and buses were waiting, discussing, honking. A police officer lead the way to the city. As the situation was fuzzy due to the closed border, there were cars everywhere. If you don’t react fast enough they honk and pass you if needed from both sides. Getting closer to the center the traffic became normal again and the whole situation was more relaxed. We knew where we wanted to go and where we could park. Anyway, almost there we got stopped by a young boy who wanted to get paid for getting us a parking lot. It was still too far away, so we wanted to continue. He was persistent, asking where we were from. After he found out that we were Germans he grinned and tried to catch us by our well known instincts of being by far the greediest nation on earth: “Hey come on. It’s cheap. Cheaper than anywhere else.”
As a tourist you’ll find it an extremely safe place. People are very open with their situation and as there aren’t so many tourists in the summer (Comment: “In the summer people care more about the beach than Jesus”) in every shop you get into a conversation about their life, present and future. Business is highly dependent on tourism. If people aren’t coming, they don’t make money. But according to what people told us tourists are not coming anymore in the numbers they are hoping for, because they are afraid. Further they just go to the main tourist sights and disappear again, without spending the night there. One shop owner claimed that he was mostly producing for the shop to keep his people busy, even though nobody buys it. Another said that any conflict is bad for business. Even though he had his bed and breakfast fully booked during the christmas days last year, almost everybody cancelled after the conflict started. He thought as well, that the people are further than the politics. He claimed having a lot of friends on both sides of the wall, arabs and jews. There are extremists. And they cause problems many people don’t want to have. This matches the remarks of people in Tel Aviv. They want to live in peace. However that can be achieved.
The wall makes life harder, people said in Bethlehem. I believe that. It’s intimidating. Check points close randomly it seemed. Both sides do it. On the way out of town the Palestinian side had closed the check point. We couldn’t get through. In a side road some young guys were throwing a huge table like a barricade on the ground and smashing stones in front of if it. Looking aggressive. Chanting something we couldn’t understand. We crossed at a different checkpoint not far from there. Back in Tel Aviv me and the kids were taking the public bus. Suddenly two guys went to the bus driver. First people were fleeing the bus quickly. Somebody left a backpack unattended. If I’m in a place I don’t know I try to observe the locals. They were between unease and panic leaving the bus. Even though the everyday life is relaxed and happy a lot of times. It’s safe to be there. But there are situations people fear for their lives. The last bus bombing was in 2012. Everybody could leave in time, because somebody noticed an unattended backpack. It’s intimidating.