Can Mary Get to Bethlehem? PART 3 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?”
Alice through the Looking Glass: I'd have to get up at 5am to catch the direct bus to Jerusalem. It's a four hour bus ride, but otherwise I'd have to connect, and normally the buses seem to be purposefully ARRANGED so that you cannot connect with less than a one hour wait. So, 5am it is - and hopefully not on a Friday or Saturday. On Friday there's only one bus to Jerusalem and on Saturday no buses run here at all.
Then, once in Jerusalem and I navigate around the beggars and hawkers of wears at the Central Bus Station. I ride the light rail to Jaffa Road - hmmm, been some trouble there lately, better keep to the bus. The bus goes past Mahane Yehuda (outdoor vegetable market). It’s funny, most people who work here seem to be Arab, while all the signs are in Hebrew. Lots to ponder, and lots of time to think, since this is the worst traffic jam in Jerusalem, every day, mostly all day.
Finally get to the end of the line - Checkpoint 300 - the end of Bethlehem Road. It used to be that we could just continue on through, the road going right through Bethlehem and onto Hebron. There is a big wall there now, as well as a tower, and barbed wire. I start to get in a tense mood, but remembering the miracle coming, let's keep up our chin, I say to myself!
I arrive at the checkpost. The soldier asks to see my ID. No problem. "Hey, you're Jewish - you can't go in here!" "What? Why not? You just let my friend from Nazareth go in." "Yeah, but you’re Jewish, don't you know it's dangerous? You could be killed!" My friend, traveling with me says, "So it's not dangerous for me?" "Nah, you can go in." (Actual re-created scene)
So now, I have a dilemma. I could give birth right there, disobey the order and drive around through an open road (which there are), or disobey God and have my baby in a nice, comfortable hospital in Jerusalem.
What would you do?
Tootsie Pop: If Mary lived today, her situation would be a lot like mine. She was from Nazareth, so she would have an Israeli ID (as I do). However, she accidentally fell in love with the wrong guy, from the other side of the wall (as I did)! A Bethlehem native, Joseph would have a Palestinian ID, since Bethlehem is in the West Bank. They might not even live together, as most men who marry women with Israeli IDs do not have regular permits to live with their wives, and if they do, it’s only for a few weeks or months throughout the year. What usually happens is that the woman with an Israeli ID puts her own identity card and freedom of movement at risk by joining her husband to live in the West Bank. If she wants to pass her Israeli ID on to her child, she must maintain residency and center of life inside Israel, and give birth to her child there. So if Jesus were born in Bethlehem today, he might be denied an Israeli identity card. Mary and Joseph would likely face the same if not similar obstacles that my husband and I would encounter today if we tried to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
There are two scenarios I might face as Mary today.
Scenario #1 (Travelling solo):
Currently, my husband and I are living in Ramallah. Therefore, travelling by car sounds the most reasonable. If I’m physically capable of driving on my own, I would take my “yellow plated” (Israeli plated) car, and go to one of the two checkpoints: Qalandya or Hizma. Qalandya is closer, but since there is always a lot of traffic there, I would be afraid to give birth at the checkpoint, so I would probably go through Hizma. This would only get me to Jerusalem. From Jerusalem, via the wide and comfortable Begin highway, it would take me around 20 minutes to get to the highest point near Bethlehem, Beit Jala. From there, it takes only 5 minutes to get to the nearest hospital “The Arab Rehabilitation Center.”
That sounds easy right? A 30 minute trip from my home to the nearest Bethlehem hospital. Well that’s because I am an unsuspicious looking young woman with a Jerusalem (Israeli) ID card.
However, the more likely scenario is this, scenario #2 (Husband comes along):
Knowing my husband, he would not want to miss the birth of his first born child. Thus, we would have to travel from Ramallah to Bethlehem via “Wadi Al-Nar.” Wadi Al-Nar, which literally translates into “valley of fire,” is the only road that connects Ramallah to Bethlehem that Palestinian ID holders can travel from. It’s a very dangerous road with lots of swerves and turns. We would also need more than double the time of travel to get to Bethlehem than if we went the previous route, putting our trip at one hour and fifteen minutes.
Last but not least, since this route passes through “Israeli controlled areas,” my husband is not allowed to drive our car with yellow plates. Instead he would take his parents’ “white plated” (Palestinian plated) car so that he wouldn’t get a 500 Shekel fine for driving in Israeli controlled areas.
Both of these scenarios are less than ideal. What pregnant woman about to give birth, rushing to a hospital, would choose to drive herself? I think if Mary lived today and had to travel to Bethlehem, she would probably give birth to baby Jesus on her way to Bethlehem, possibly in Eizaryeh (Bethany). And then, the Nativity Church would be in Bethany instead of Bethlehem ;)