I first sang “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in the children’s choir at Bon Air Methodist Church in Richmond, Virginia. Along with other favorite Christmas songs like “Away in a Manger” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” my awareness of Bethlehem was strong from a young age. I knew it as the place where Jesus was born. As a Christian, the images of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus and the Church of the Nativity were powerful enough that they made me want to pay a visit to this holy place. I finally got my chance in June when I was visiting Palestine.
Jordan had control of Bethlehem until 1967 when Israel retained control after its victory in the Six-Day War. Bethlehem was returned by Israel in 1995 to the Palestinian National Authority in accordance with the Oslo peace accord. Today Bethlehem is fully controlled by Palestine, but there exists a major eyesore to tourists–the Israeli West Bank barrier or security wall that the Israeli military built during the Second Intifada.
This barrier is often called an Apartheid Wall or Apartheid Fence. I just call it a wall. It is definitely not a fence. When I was with my driver in Bethlehem, he made a point to show me the art and graffiti. The Wall is now a stain on a united holy land, but also a tourist attraction to the millions of religious pilgrims who visit Bethlehem each year, especially at Christmas. You cannot visit Bethlehem without simultaneously confronting religion and politics, as I experienced with my taxi driver: