Can Mary get to Bethlehem? PART 2 OF 4
In this series, we are contemplating hypothetical journeys from our homes to Bethlehem, and more specifically 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?”
Bee: If I were Mary, I would have a hard time explaining it to my family in Nazareth - an unmarried woman about to have a child. Maybe moving out would be a good escape or offer a better future for my unborn, but I wonder if Bethlehem society would accept me? The culture is quite similar to Nazareth. I get in my car and drive myself to Bethlehem within a few hours. Maybe my mother will come with me to help me. It is my first baby after all, and I would be very scared to do this completely on my own.
Where would I have the baby? Bethlehem doesn't have good hospitals (most Palestinians come to Israel for health treatments), and the one hospital for giving birth doesn’t allow mothers to stay longer than one night due to overcrowdedness. I can probably afford to stay at a hotel after giving birth, but I know I will get uncomfortable stares from people wondering where (or who) the father is!
Coming to Bethlehem is by no means a long term solution. I need my family to help me with raising this child, so I would probably go back to Nazareth. I would need a car seat, and would I be able to drive home myself? I am feeling more anxious about the future.
Where would I register my baby? Would I be allowed to just drive through a checkpoint with my son? What if they ask me for documents to prove he is mine? If he is born in Bethlehem, then the baby might not get Israeli citizenship, but maybe he would, because I have citizenship.
There are many unknowns to contemplate in this scenario. One thing I know I would be looking forward to is receiving gifts from the wisemen.
Q: Coming to Bethlehem in the winter when I live on the coastlands of Jewish Israel is a challenge; especially if I were 9 months pregnant and heavy with child. When I think of Mary, making the long journey of more than 100 kilometers from Nazareth - the difficulty of the terrain, changeable weather, the uncertainty of the time of birth and the discomfort of walking or riding a donkey; living in this time seems far easier.
Mary’s life was governed by an occupying nation that placed demands on her that she did not choose. Who would ever choose to travel such a distance by foot and/or donkey when being ready to give birth? I’m sure that had she had a choice, she would have preferred to stay home in Nazareth and give birth in familiar circumstances. Instead, she was obligated to leave her comfort zone and undertake an arduous journey only because some petty ruler in distant Rome decided that this was the time to take a worldwide census. Granted, this is looking at the story from a strictly human perspective, whereas ultimately Mary’s journey was part of God’s plan.
Today we have cars and trains and busses, but travel from where I live to Bethlehem is actually more difficult than it would have been in Mary’s day. Mary at least had free access to Bethlehem. I do not. Traffic jams and slick roads are the easy part. Getting through the checkpoints is another challenge. Our governments seem to have conspired to make simple travel a veritable nightmare for those of us who simply want to visit friends, do a bit of shopping or enjoy the beautiful scenery and resonate with the rich biblical heritage of our land of Israel/Palestine.
Regardless of the time or the day of the week, travel is always complicated and sometimes it is impossible. Borders, barriers, walls, checkpoints and soldiers all have to be negotiated. I am not free to cross the border into Palestine without prior permission from my government. I’ve tried and the best I can manage is permission to come in for a day, but certainly not for a night. Having a baby would mean I need to spend at least one night in the forbidden city of Bethlehem. Yes, I could break the law and find a circuitous way into Bethlehem, risking being stopped, turned away, fined, or threatened with imprisonment. If I did decide to take the risk and come into Bethlehem to give birth, it would be without any insurance coverage, and being cared for by a staff who most likely wouldn’t know my language.
Returning to Israel would be more of a challenge than actually travelling there and having a baby. My baby would be stateless and have no rights as a citizen of either Israel or Palestine. I could easily face a lengthy judicial process for having chosen to break the law and have my child in “enemy” territory. In my life, I, like Mary, am obligated to a government that limits my choices in ways I would never choose. Like Mary, I too am a part of God’s plan and I follow a higher will, whose purposes will ultimately be accomplished. I can choose to go to Bethlehem today, take the risk and pay the price if demanded. For my children, the answer may not be the same. Would I risk my child being stateless for the sake of my principles? I’m thankful I don’t have to make that choice today.