Friday, July 16, 2010

Oxymoron City

On our way to the birthplace of the redeemer, we bumped into a fan of his. Frère Christian was fueling a car belonging to his Trappist monetary. The contrast between his robe and the Renault was the first of many on our excursion. In fact, sharp contrasts and dichotomies would turn out to be a staple of the trip. Welcome to oxymoron country.

Take the contrast between the open countryside and the many walls running through it. This one isn't even the famous "separation Wall". It's another wall, shielding a road used mostly by settlers from Palestinian houses.

We were going to Bethlehem because such walls haunt my dreams. A short while ago I was in Beit Jala to watch the World Cup semi-finals screened on the separation wall. Afterward I found myself waking each morning with troubling visions of barriers and gates on my mind. I had to come and see what Beit Jala was like during the day.

I also wished to experience once more the intense feeling of being an illegal. As an Israeli, my government strictly forbids me from visiting any Palestinian city and returning to Israel through the checkpoints demands know-how and cunning. The experience of being only a few meters away from a home I may not easily reach was intense (though all ended well, thanks to the help of a few kind smugglers). Going through all of that through a few hours of a dark night, on which none of the world across the wall could be seen, left a mark on me. I had to come back for closure.

We took a tricky path in and were back in Beit Jala, where the contrast of the Jacir Intercontinental hotel and a distant Israeli watchtower greeted us.

This time, Itka and Ben couldn't come. Instead I was with Bea, who rears from the tiny princedom of Lichtenstein, and Ron, who rears from the slightly larger land of Israel. We came to the place where the game was screened. The screen was still there, along with the restaurant's menu, providing another peculiar combination.

I could see over the wall this time, there were other walls there.

It was the walls proximity to the town that shocked me so much on the initial visit. As Israelis, if we get to see the wall at all, we see it from afar. Here it's part of the urban fabric.

It's so much a part of life, some people find it funny.

Having taken it all in, we went on towards central Bethlehem, the city to which Beit Jala is a suburb. New contrasts abounded. The palestinian cityscape as seen through the windshield vs. our Israeli parking sticker stuck on it.

The old Arab city

Vs. the new Israeli settlement of Har Homa, across the valley and the wall from it.

The abundance of the market

vs. the empty shopping mall, a true indicator of the state of Bethlehem's economy. The only stores open offered overpriced goods for tourists. all prices were in U.S. dollars.

There was also the quaintness of the renovated central district

vs. the rustic outskirts.

And finally, the size of a normal human being vs. the doorway of the Church of Nativity.

Now that we mixed into the tourist crowd, I can show the faces of my brother and sister in crime.

All of us enjoyed the best of Bethlehem, its peculiar architecture,

its amazing children

its striking street names

its perfect kebabs, consumed at a hole in the wall restaurant with the best ceiling ever

and the company of Mohamed, a local zucchini farmer/real estate agent who joined us out of nowhere and chatted with us for nearly an hour.

We also all enjoyed the thrill of succesfully breaking back out to our side of the wall. I felt much better following this visit. The light of day changes everything.

The return to Israel of course provided the most intense contrast of the day. We drove directly across Jerusalem to the Hebrew University atop Mt. Scopus where graduates of the Betzal'el art school showed their final project in a massive exhibition. I found much of the stuff to be worthwhile.

In one of the corridors, guest of the exhibition were encouraged to participate in the exhibition by letting their creativity go wild.

I couldn't help but offer what was on my mind.

1 comment:

Ami Kaufman said...

What a wonderful post! Great combo of words and pics.