A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Better Turnout in Bethlehem?

For those readers who celebrate Christmas on the Western or Latin date, Merry Christmas! Since most of the Middle East's Christians celebrate on the Orthodox date, Christmas-related posts will continue into January, but for those of you on the Gregorian calendar, Christmas greetings.

A number of reports suggest a larger Christmas Eve turnout for Bethlehem than in some recent years, which is good news for the town. Since the bulk of the pilgrims come from Jerusalem they, plus the Latin Patriarch and his procession, have to pass through a checkpoint in the Israeli separation wall, leading to lots of dramatic pictures, since the barrier between Jerusalem and the Bethlehem and Bait Jala areas is marked by some of the most formidable parts of the wall and watchtowers, leading to plenty of commentaries along these lines:

As Robert Frost put it, "Something there is that Doesn't Love a Wall ..."; but while I find the barrier deeply disturbing, I should note that Bethlehem is not actually walled in, just walled off from Jerusalem and Israeli settlements nearby:

On the other hand, the separation barrier has some strange routing, such as running down both sides of a road and then enclosing Rachel's Tomb, a Jewish holy site on the northern edge of Bethlehem, as shown in this Google Earth shot from a few years ago:

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