These days (the article is written over Christmas), people almost all over the world commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. What does the famous Bethlehem in which Jesus was born look like today?

The Middle East, as this part of the world is called, is very complicated. We constantly hear from here about some struggles and riots. There is no complete peace in the Holy Land either - as I prefer to call this country (Israel/Palestine). Although I don't think it always deserves that name.

Welcome to the Holy Land. In the photo the city of Jerusalem

We have two nations in the Holy Land who are not in love - they hate each other! The first are the Jews, who already make up the majority here and have created the state of Israel here. The second are the Palestinians, the Arabs. They are mainly Muslims, but we can also find several Christians among them. Some may be surprised, but yes, it's true, some Arabs are Christians.

The Jews and their state of Israel have the dominant word in the Holy Land now. The Palestinians have some form of self-government in the West Bank of Jordan river - as this region is called.

The city of Bethlehem, where Jesus Christ was born, has an interesting place in this local conflict - it is in Palestinian territory (the West Bank), but right on the border with the Jewish state of Israel, so ti is something a border city between two hostile nations. It is this factor that greatly influences what Bethlehem looks like today.

Let's try to go through military checks…

Probably the first thing you will see after arriving to Bethlehem is a tall, guarded, concrete wall with barbed wire on top. Such a border - between what is Israel and what is already Palestinia - was set here by the Jews/ Israel. And not just here!

Entrance to Bethlehem and the Israeli walls

It is certainly not pleasant if a concrete monster that it is several meters high suddenly grows in front of your house, which stretches for miles to the left and right. They wall you up.

But Israel's argument is that after the construction of these walls, the number of terrorist attacks by Palestinians has dropped significantly.

This dispute, to whom this country belongs, who has the bigger rights here, has no end here and I do not see it too rosy/positive from my own experience for the future of this region. Conflict and hatred will continue here.

When you pass the checkpoint, where you can easily see young girls with submachine guns (in Israel, girls also have to join the army) and you will be behind the walls, you are finally in the sacred Bethlehem.

Soldiers sometimes ask - "Where are you from?," but they usually see that you're just a tourist, so they don't make problems.

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The walls of Israel are interestingly painted in the city. You will find pictures of them that speak of the absurdity and hell that war brings. There you will find symbols of freedom, such as a dove in a bulletproof vest.

Donald Trump is als there, because he quite inclined with his statements to the side of the Jewish Israel, so they painted him a picture with a Jewish yarmulke on his head. Artists from all over the world come here to paint and express their opinion about this conflict

Trump on the Bethlehem Walls

Bethlehem is, as I mentioned, a Palestinian city and the Palestinians are both Muslims and Christians. Churches and Muslim mosques stand side by side. In essence, Jesus Christ himself and this place where he was born are worshiped among Christians but also among Muslims - they do not see Jesus as the Son of God, but as a great prophet who is often mentioned in the Qur'an (the holy book of Muslims). In addition to him, you can easily find other biblical figures in the book of Muslims - also the Virgin Mary or the Old Testament prophets (Moses...).

If you want to know more about how Judaism (Jews), Christianity and Islam are connected, and how all three religions worship not only one God but also the same people, come with me to nearby Jerusalem. 🙂 I'll explain everything to you there. (Englisht article about it and Jerusalem coming soon.)

For example, in the opposite side of the street, where is the holiest site in Bethlehem - the Basilica of the Nativity, where Christ was born - is the so-called Omar Mosque. As if both religions wanted to be here, on this place. Even a group of young Muslim women enters to the Christian temple with me. Why not:

In the Basilica of the Nativity

Bethlehem is an old city that has a typical Middle Eastern character. Because it is a Palestinian/Arab city, so you can feel a specific Arab atmosphere. I mean, for example, vendors, street markets, trumpet drivers 😀 and guys sitting on the terraces over tea.

Bethlehem, the minaret of the mosque and one of the holiest Christian basilicas next to each other

Arab markets on the street - whether tourist-oriented with souvenirs or locals for locals (fruits, vegetables, kitchen stuff, toys) - I think I sincerely fell in love with them.

At first I was almost afraid of them, the madness that the European is not too used to. Then they just annoyed me and now, after a while in this world, I love their atmosphere, smells, tastes and debate with the locals. 🙂

Don't worry, the street markets in Bethlehem are not so crazy as the ones in Egypt or Marrakesh in Morocco.

Crazy markets in Marrakesh

But let's go back to the Basilica of the Nativity - to a place for which the whole world knows Bethlehem. It is one of the oldest Christian churches in the world, which is still in use.

It was built here by St. Helena and his son the Roman emperor Constantine in the 4th century - about 1700 years ago. That's unbelievable!

She allegedly asked the locals exactly where Jesus Christ was born. Then she built the first temple in the place they showed her. Although the old temple was later destroyed by the Persians, the people were able to get it back "on its feet" and it stands here again - to this day.

The whole complex is divided between the individual Christian churches (Catholics, Orthodox...), each has its own place here and some common spaces are simply shared.

A few times it happened that the priests did not agree on each other, so for example, to the left of the main altar (where it comes from the place where Jesus was born) you may notice a pierced picture/painting with John the Baptist. The priests allegedly threw objects at each other during one quarrel and one of the flying ninja crosses stuck right into the picture.

The perforated image of John the Baptist in the Basilica of the Nativity as a memorial to the battle of the priests. Welcome to the Holy Land.

Many nooks and crannies of this temple really remember a piece of history. When you enter the old and really low entrance (made like this on purpose, in history, the horse riders can not go inside to the temple) you will find yourself in a church nave - the main part of the church.

Here you will probably see a line of people (sometimes it's big outside the basilica) who want to get to one place - go down the stairs under the main altar…

The main altar in the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem

Under the altar you will find a star. ? This is the place where what the whole world is remembering what is happened here!

This is the place where Jesus Christ was born!

Text & photos:

František Fefe Kekely