Aida Camp

Bethlehem and Aida Refugee Camp

We stayed the night in Jerusalem and went to Bethlehem the next morning. We were taking the bus there, since the situation there is more tense than in Jericho. Disregarding that the car rental company was not allowing us to go to Bethlehem by car, it is not advisable. It might happen that people will throw stones at your car when you have the yellow Israeli car plate.

At the checkpoint some strict military women were entering the bus, checking all the passports, writing down the names of Israelis going to Palestine. The Bus dumped us somewhere close to the city center of Bethlehem. By feet we crossed the centre and the old city to find our accommodation at the other end of the city.

We were not sure if we were still on the right way, that’s why we asked for the way in a souvenir shop. The  people there were very nice and Joseph, the owner of the shop, offered us to give us a ride to the guesthouse. The guesthouse in Beit Jala unfortunately was fully booked. The women there tried to arrange some other accommodation for us and so we ended up in – a Christian monastery. Joseph took us there, leaving his name and telephone number in case we would need anything. The room smelled like desinfections. The room was plastered with pictures of Jesus and Holy Mary, a cross was hanging over the bed. Well, ending your Israeli/Palestine travel experience with a stay in a monastery just aces it somewhat a successful roundup.
Right after leaving our luggage in the monastery we went for some sightseeing in the city. We started at the Church of Nativity, where it is said Jesus was born. The entrance is just a very small inconsiderable door. They say the Church of Nativity is the oldest Church in the world. Inside Monks in dark robes were singing. There were also a lot of pilgrims, wanting to visit that holy birth grotto underneath the altar. It was so crowded that the believers only were allowed to stay in the grotto for a few seconds to make way for other people to pray. I kind of felt sad for them. You may have saved your money for years to come here, you waited so long and then some guard interrupts you prayer by shouting: ‘Only two seconds, only two seconds, move forward!’ Even for me it was too hectic.
We then strolled around the old city, walking along the way Joseph and Mary took. The market in the old city is wonderful, but nothing for hygiene lovers and vegetarians. The sellers are shouting, the bargaining is loud, kids are running around with carts as if they were in a supermarket. There are stalls and booths for meat, fruits and veggies. In the outspreads of the market further to the new city center there you will find clothes, some trashy stuff, furniture and shoes.  There are guys running around with pipe like looking cans decorated with flowers, serving tea in the streets to thirsty men. The city of Bethlehem is bustling. The narrow streets are jam-packed with shops, sellers in the streets and people of all ages. It is a city with lots of differences: different religions, the spiritualness of an old holy city, the sleaziness in some places and the wall seperating Bethlehem from Israel. We also went there, but you can read about it in another article.
In the evening we went to a restaurant called the Square right at Manger Square where you also find the Church of Nativity. One of the waiters, Mahmoud, was living in Aida Camp one of the Palestinian refugee camps close to Bethlehem. He asked if we visited this place. So far we didn’t. Kati and me had been mulling over coming to this place cos it feels like poverty tourism. But when Mahmoud encouraged us to go there cos we were really welcome to see his place, we decided to go there. At Aida Camp you will find poor housings and it feels like its a camp of kids. There are kids all over, playing football in the streets, running around. In general Aida camp is overcrowed. There is trash in the streets, the people are rather humble and shy, but friendly. Still it was a strange feeling to walk around at this refugee camp, observed by the eyes of the military.

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