Across the border, the first stop in our travels was to an Arab shop, where we were offered juice and coffee. I stuck to juice; I’m not a great lover of coffee and I guessed this would be strong and bitter. While there, I bought key rings made of olive wood for the grandchildren, and at a second little shop, bracelets for them. Michael was very tempted by a beautiful carved olivewood chess set, but we knew we had nowhere to put such a thing. One of the shopkeepers called Gil, his brother, and told us, ‘Politics is shit.’From there to Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity. There are probably better photos than these to be found. Unfortunately, on mine, you cannot see the impressive main altar at the east end, which is the property of the Greek Orthodox Church, and which according to wikipedia includes an Orthodox iconostasis, crowned with gilded angels, icons, gilded chandeliers and lamps. Nor can you see clearly, the colours of the exposed Constantinian mosaic floor, revealed beneath the wooden floorboards of the nave, because despite the flash, there was insufficient light for my camera.
Most of our party did not descend to the Grotto of the Nativity, as there was a queue of an hour. Just one of us particularly wanted to go down there, and she was quietly shown down a different staircase; possibly a tip was called for, but none of us asked how it was arranged.
I had to look long and hard to find the name of the Church of the Milk Grotto, and the article shown at this website (http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0707062.htm) describes exactly what the Franciscan Brother told us, when we were there. I found it very moving to hear him speak about the women who had come there hoping to become pregnant, some of whom were subsequently successful, and people who had contacted him and told him they had been cured of cancer following their visit. Who can explain the mysteries of faith? It was a very peaceful place and we stood and looked below at the chapel, where there is always at least one nun praying, and moved quietly along corridors ornamented with religious icons.
Out into the Bethlehem street past the Peace Centre to the car park, where, with assistance from the locals, we managed to get the minivan out of a tight corner. From there we went on to Herodian, a fortress described as one of Herod the Great’s most ambitious building projects. (See http://www.jewishmag.com/93mag/herodian/herodian.htm). I decided I did not want to climb, and sat under shade, until the others returned. Gil, our guide, pointed out which of three water butts was drinking water, and it was reassuring to know that we could take from this butt, and not have to rely on bottled water. The photo is the view from the car park.
We were very hungry by now, and in Beit Jala, Gil took us to an Arab restaurant, where we partook of chicken, charcoal grilled outside in the street. I had eaten a lot of dairy meals, during the past few days, and thoroughly enjoyed the chicken, served with an array of dishes, as you can see.
Our final visit was to Hebron, to The Tomb of the Patriarchs (called al Haram al Ibrahimi in Arabic and Ha Ma'rat Ha Machpelah in Hebrew) which is the main religious site in the city. Abraham's burial place and the main holy site in the city, is on the border between the Palestinian and Jewish sectors. We went to the synagogue and saw the shrines to the patriarchs. There are better photos on the internet. However, you can see the many memorial candles left by people who have visited. You can read about it below:
Quoted from this site: http://iguide.travel/Hebron#/Sights. The Muslim side of the Cave contains the only known entrance to the Cave below (it is locked by a marble door). And as well, the tomb-markers of Isaac, and Rebekah, with the tomb-markers of Abraham and Sarah lying on the border of both the Muslim and Jewish section of the cave so both have access to Abraham and Sarah's tombs from each side. The Jewish section contains the tomb-markers of Jacob and Leah. Most of the time, half of the building is used for Muslim and half for Jewish prayer. On a few predetermined days each year, each religion gets to use the entire building.
We had to pass through a passport control, to go to the mosque, but we were not allowed in, because it was Friday and people were at prayer.
Although we understood it was a good thing that mosque and synagogue were side by side and both used for prayer, nevertheless, this border area of Hebron was almost deserted - except for some small boys selling trinkets - and a grim, tense atmosphere pervaded the area, which seemed poor and down at heel. I was not surprised to read in Wikipedia of violent incidents that have taken place there, and I was happy to get back on board the minibus and leave the area.
Arriving back at the border, we were held up for about 15 minutes while they examined our passports. We began to wonder if they were ever going to let us back in, but all was well.
It was the end of a very full and memorable day. The next day was the Sabbath, when we would certainly be resting.