Can Mary Get to Bethlehem? PART 1 OF 4
Recently we have been contemplating how Mary would travel to Bethlehem if she had to go there in 2014. Part of the area surrounding Bethlehem is under Israeli military occupation, and while Palestinians technically have civil and security control of Bethlehem as it is part of Area A (see more on Areas A, B and C here, and an interactive map here), Israel is quick to override this ‘authority’ and go whenever it sees fit (as we saw this past summer).
Palestinians from the West Bank who have permission to work in Israel can come and go, so long as they abide by the stipulations of their permission (which usually involves getting in line at the checkpoint around 5:00am to get to work in Israel by 7:00 or 7:30am, and returning by an evening curfew of 7:00pm). Jerusalemite Palestinians can come and go into Bethlehem and the West Bank.
While the signs say Israeli citizens aren’t allowed into Bethlehem, this is open to much interpretation. In practice, Israeli Palestinians are allowed free entry into and out of the West Bank, as well as other Israeli non-Jews (internationals married to locals, for example). Israeli Jews, on the other hand, are not allowed entrance into Area A, and if they try and cross the checkpoints like non-Jewish Israelis, they are often turned around by Israeli soldiers. (Israeli Jews, however, are allowed into Area C -- most of the West Bank, and areas where Jewish settlements are built.)
To illustrate the current situation, we each considered the questions, “If I were Mary, and I had to go to Bethlehem today, how would I get there?” And, “What might I see, think and experience along the way?”
Every Tuesday for the next few weeks, we will share our thoughts on these questions, and our hypothetical journeys from our homes and cities to Bethlehem.
Y: I guess the time that Mary lived in had some similarities to the world we find ourselves in today-full of division, hate and oppression. Since I’m currently pregnant, I can relate to that and can’t imagine how overwhelming it must have been to be called to report for the census. I’m sure she was thinking, “Now? Of all times, right now, when I could give birth at any moment?!” And this, in addition to all the other already stressful elements surrounding her pregnancy.
Getting to Bethlehem today would be easier, on the one hand, than riding on a donkey. However, it would require passing through a checkpoint and, in my case, since I’m married to an Israeli, he would not technically be allowed to go with me. And I wouldn’t know that much about the hospitals in Bethlehem, so if I went into labor, I would be both doing it solo and with a great deal of uncertainty. I’m sure that Mary felt such uncertainty too. And she and Joseph did not seem to have a ton of connections, as they could not even find a place to stay, despite being the family the Messiah would be born to!
I guess the biggest challenge would also come after the birth: Trying to go back through the checkpoint into Jerusalem and explain why I gave birth in Bethlehem; the subsequent fight to get Israeli citizenship or even a recognized birth certificate; and the Israeli community’s response. It was hard enough getting my first child’s birth certificate being that I do not have citizenship and I am quite positive it would be nearly impossible if born in Bethlehem! So, there would be many hassles, though it is clear that Mary faced many struggles too as she negotiated her way through a divided, unforgiving society.
Jesus’ birth during such a time really speaks volumes about His desire to connect with all people and put Himself into humanity’s shoes, so to speak. He brought Himself to live under oppression at an intensely difficult period of history, in order that no one can say that He doesn’t understand the human condition!
Goody Two Shoes: Well I don't like animals .....they smell so I wouldn't ride a donkey. Good job, Mary was young! I would have to walk. From my house it is approx 1 1/2-2 hours (walking as I do not trust donkeys) to checkpoint 300, which I do not usually use because the soldiers there can be mean or nasty. Because I am pregnant I will risk it. Recently they have been nice, not even looking at me and leaving the barrier up so I can drive through. I can be asked if I am Jewish which I am not so I am allowed in, but there is more chance I will be stopped if I am with my husband and certainly if I am with my sons. Anyways, once through the checkpoint, where my bump would be examined in case it is not really a baby but something more sinister, I would continue on foot (due to donkey fear) to Nativity Square, which is another 1 1/2-2 hours walk.
I think with all this walking and checkpoint scare I would probably have given birth on the way!