The Nativity Trail 2012

By Miri -

If Mary and Joseph were to embark on their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem in 2012 their experiences would obviously be very differently. Let's trace their trail and see what they would discover today and which obstacles they would have to overcome in order to reach Bethlehem.

The Separation Barrier around Jenin
Starting off in Nazareth, Mary and Joseph would probably pass through Afula and would shortly after arrive at the Jalame Checkpoint. Since they would cross from Israel into the West Bank, they most likely would not have to stop, or be checked, but could just pass through, that is if the Israeli authorities do not mind them travelling by donkey, which may constitute some problems. Yet even if they just passed through, the view of the high concrete Separation Barrier crosscutting through the fertile lands is always an upsetting enough experience.

The area between the barrier and the first villages once used to be full of shops and traders, these days, after the destruction that the Israeli military caused during the Second Intifada, Mary and Joseph would find a quite desolate area on their way to Jenin referred to as En Gannim in the Bible.
Compared to its recent violent past, especially during the Second Intifada with the Jenin refugee camp constituting a stronghold for Palestinian armed resistance, both the city and the camp appear relatively peaceful today. Yet the rubble and the scarred buildings are not the only reminders for the residents of the large scale military invasions that took so many lives some ten years ago, and also today, though significantly smaller, raids by the Israeli military, especially in the camp are still commonplace.

Ein Abus, Nablus, car torched by settlers from Yitzhar
After passing through a number of smaller villages in the Jenin and Tubas region, Mary and Joseph would continue their way to Nablus. On their way they may notice the change of the landscape and an increasing number of settlements and outposts lining up along the hill tops that surround the capital city of the region, Nablus, or Shechem in the Bible. The settler population in the Nablus region, together with those in Hebron, is considered to be one of the most extremist and violent and incidents of settler aggression, whether targeted against Palestinian structures or people are very frequent. Settlers do not even shy away from entering Nablus, and regularly come to visit what they consider to be the burial place of Joseph, outside of Balata, the West Bank's largest refugee camp.

Continuing their journey south, Mary and Joseph will have to pass through Huwwara Checkpoint, which until a few years ago, used to be one of the most notorious checkpoints of the West Bank, with endless waiting lines and recurring harassment of those passing through. In recent years, the army has eased a few of the movement restrictions imposed on the Palestinian population and many of the barriers inside the West Bank have been removed or are not or only partially manned by soldiers. The structures of the checkpoints remain however in place and could easily be turned into working ones at any moment.

Inside Qalandiya Checkpoint
Passing through the central West Bank, Joseph and Mary will get to Ramallah. Whether or not they would be impressed by the building boom, the shining shopping malls, and the fancy bars and restaurants of the city that is often referred to as a bubble we do not know.

Continuing their way to Jerusalem the two would have to pass through Qalandiya, the location of another notorious checkpoint. Since Mary and Joseph were Jewish we could say that they are citizens of Israel. In that case the army at the checkpoint may decide to arrest the two for having entered Area A territory, the approximately 3 percent of the West Bank, which is theoretically under full civil and security control by the Palestinian Authority and which Israeli citizens are not allowed to enter. Yet according to the New Testament Joseph and Mary both originated from Bethlehem, another Area A territory, which makes the option of them being Israelis impossible. If we thus decide that the couple is Palestinian we can only hope that they applied to the civil administration of the army for permits and received them on time, otherwise their journey would either end in Qalandiya or they would have to make a detour in order to arrive in Bethlehem.

Let's say they got their permits and make it to Jerusalem and from there could continue the nativity trail to Bethlehem. Right now our couple would still be able to move relatively easily between those two biblical cities, what will happen in the future is however uncertain. Just now the construction of 2,612 housing units in the settlement of Givat Hamatos were approved.  The area in which the settlement is located is often referred to as the Jerusalem - Bethlehem corridor, thus the only stretch of land that directly links the two cities which is not yet built up with settlements, considered to be "suburbs" of Jerusalem. The building of the new housing units will finally complete the isolation between the two cities and is therefore also considered to be a "game changer" which would fragment Palestinian areas to such an extent that drawing borders of a future Palestinian state would basically be impossible.

So with a bit of luck and the right papers our couple would still be able to complete their journey to Bethlehem's Manger Square, where Jesus is said to have been born. This year, they even may be lucky enough to get a hotel room, as due to the recent wave of violence in the south in November, many Christmas pilgrims decided to stay at home.
It is difficult to say how they would feel about bringing new life into such difficult circumstances, but since we already decided that Mary and Joseph were Jewish Palestinians they would probably also be stubbornly hopeful that their new born child will one day live a better and free life.

Green Olive Tours wishes you all a merry Christmas!

Christmas tree in Manger Square, Bethlehem



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