2015 Israel & Morocco Trip No.3: Day 2 in Jerusalem to the Wailing Wall, Bethlehem in the Palestinian Territories

Israel and Morocco Travel 2015 GW
Israel and Morocco Travel 2015 GW

Date of visit: April 25, 2015

I went to Bethlehem and the Palestinian territories and learned one of the contradictions of this country. And I thought that I should read guidebooks more carefully before I travel.

I slept well the night before, so I was in perfect physical condition. It was a fine day in Jerusalem. I thought it would be cold in the morning, but it was already over 20 degrees Celsius at 9 o’clock, so I didn’t need a jacket at all.

Visit the Wall of Sorrows, a holy place for Jews

This day is Saturday, which means Shabbat for Judaism, so we decided to go to the holy place of Judaism, the Wall of Sorrows in Jerusalem, first thing in the morning. It takes about 10 minutes on foot from Jaffo Gate where the hotel is located. We passed through the Jewish quarter which was beautifully maintained in contrast to the Arab quarter, and arrived at the Wall of Lamentations in the corner of the hill of the temple where the dome of the rock rises. As it was just Saturday, the Sabbath, many ultra-orthodox Jews were already praying at the wall.

By the way, admission is free. There is a simple security check. In addition, it is prohibited to take a picture inside the wall of sorrow only on Saturday. So I only took a picture of the whole view from outside.

Now, I have already seen many ultra-orthodox Jews in the city, but I was able to feel their long history and unity of the people more strongly by witnessing their prayer (probably reading out the Bible) near the Wall of Sorrow (called Western Wall in local). I could feel their long history and the unity of their people more strongly. However, it is true that it was a little strange for us who do not have such religious views.

Bus to Bethlehem, first checkpoint

After the Wailing Wall, we tried to head to the Temple Hill, which is just above it. We went out from the area of the Wall of Woe and went to another entrance on the south side of the Wall of Woe, which is open to non-Muslims, but it seemed to be closed in the morning, so we decided to come back around 1pm. So I had some free time until then, so I chose Bethlehem as my destination.

You can go to Bethlehem by bus. First of all, we went to the bus terminal just outside Damascus Gate in the north of the Old City of Jerusalem.

We were told that Bethlehem is about 30 minutes from Jerusalem. I was told that foreigners have to get off at a “checkpoint” in the north of the city before they can enter, so I took a bus to that point and arrived at my destination in about 10 minutes.

This is the checkpoint. That is, the concrete wall. You have to walk through here or something.

It was a bit of a detour, but we passed through without any special checks. The Palestinian Authority awaited us as we passed through. I was a little surprised at the difference in scenery. Compared to the clean and modern suburbs of Jerusalem, it honestly looked very dusty and abandoned. Is this what Palestine is?

There were a lot of taxis parked outside the checkpoint, so I didn’t hesitate to tell one of them that I wanted to go to the city of Bethlehem. Without hesitation, I told one of them that I wanted to go to the city of Bethlehem. A very nice Arab man took me to the car, and then we got into the taxi and started driving through the somewhat deserted borough. I was sitting in the back seat, but he said, “My friend, you can see better from the passenger seat, so come to the front. So, I moved to the passenger seat. Well, they are still friendly people, well, it was good so far.

Naturally, the driver turned left on the road just before the road to Bethlehem. What? I thought, “Isn’t Bethlehem straight? He said, “There is a famous church just ahead, I’ll take you there. Well, I was naive at this point, and I was prepared for a long way. Still, when I checked the location on Google Maps, I found that we were indeed heading for the “Shepherd’s Field”. To tell the truth, I was satisfied with only the Church of the Nativity in the city, but I decided to go there as I was told.

shepherd’s field

This “Shepherd’s Field”, which I was brought to on my own, is very famous and crowded with tourists because it is mentioned in the Bible. It is said that the shepherds who were here were told by God about the birth of Jesus.

It’s just a hill or a field, but there is a small church standing there. I stayed there for about 15 minutes, and a taxi driver was waiting at the entrance, so I went back and he took me to the next place.

In addition, I bought mineral water at a cafe near the entrance of the shepherd’s field. Bethlehem is also very nice weather. The shopkeeper asked for dollars, but we could use Israeli transit shekel. But apparently dollars are circulating in this Palestine instead of shekels.


Next, I was brought to a place called Herodeon. This seems to be a sightseeing spot in the suburbs of Bethlehem, too. But it’s just a fortress on the top of the hill. It is a ruin. There was not much to see here either, but the view from here was certainly wonderful. In the distance, we could see the Dead Sea.

After this, they persistently asked me if I wanted to go to Hebron as well, but I refused anyway because I didn’t have time and I had no idea how much they would charge.

Finally, we’re in Bethlehem, but…

This finally took us to our original destination, Bethlehem city. This time they definitely took us there. The old town of Bethlehem is also a city on the hill, and the slope to get there was very old.

I thought I could finally do some serious sightseeing, but I was naive. I was taken to a strange souvenir shop. Handmade wooden carvings seem to be a specialty of this area, it was persistently recommended. They were all expensive, costing several hundred dollars. As expected, I lost my temper and said, “I don’t have that kind of money! 20 dollars is the limit! I raised my voice loudly.

Having said this so strongly and clearly, we were only able to buy a small souvenir and finally head off to see the sights.

To the Basilica of Nativity

This is probably the best place to see in Bethlehem!

When Joseph and Mary reached Bethlehem, they were unable to find lodging and Jesus was born in a cave that had been used as a stable. The Church of the Nativity is a magnificent church built over this cave. The first church was built in the first half of the 4th century by the Byzantine emperors, but the present church was built in 530. From the outside it looks like a fortress. The entrance is narrow and low to protect the church from intruders and to prevent people from entering on horseback.

And there was a guide in this church, too. He seems to have a permit from the city. When I asked “How much is it?”, he said “30 dollars”, so I said “I’ll hire you if it’s 5 dollars”, and he lowered it to 20 dollars and 15 dollars. In the first place, I had a guidebook at hand, and I didn’t need a guide because it was in the way, so I said, “It’s too expensive, so no! I said “Bye-bye” and kept ignoring them, and started sightseeing on my own.

I went through a very small entrance and went inside. The Church of the Nativity itself is not gorgeous, though it looks old. However, it had a mysterious atmosphere. And in the basement of the church, there is the “Cave of the Nativity”. It was once used as a stable, and Jesus was born in this cave. It is a very small place, but it was crowded with many tourists.

A lot of people were lining up to kiss this place. The turnover of people was very intense, but I took advantage of the opportunity to take a picture.

milk glotto (Ipomoea purpurea)

Finally, we toured a small church called the Milk Grotto, which is located beside the Church of the Nativity. According to the legend, this is the place where the Virgin Mary was hiding with Jesus, and when she was being chased by King Herod and was in a hurry to leave, a few drops of her mother’s milk fell on the rocks and stained them white.

Aside from the truth of the legend, it was a very impressive church with very beautiful and lovely colors and design. It was a 5-minute sightseeing tour because of its small size.

I was reluctant to pay, feeling conflicted.

After visiting the milk glotto (Ipomoea purpurea), we decided to take a cab back to the checkpoint again. So now it was time to ask for the fee. At first, they said it would be $200 plus fees, but finally they wanted us to pay $300. I insisted that it was too expensive, and I was angry, but it was too late. He wouldn’t budge an inch. I guess that’s the end of the story once you’re on board.

So when I told him that I didn’t have that much cash, he just said, “Don’t worry,” and drove me to a bank with an ATM on the outskirts of Bethlehem, where I had to withdraw 300 US dollars. To tell the truth, I could have lost my temper here and blown my price to the taxi and walked to the check point, but I felt it was kind of pathetic. It seemed to me that life was certainly difficult for them. I can understand and sympathize with the fact that they have a painful history of being oppressed. I really wondered how they live, and as I only know Japan, I had many questions.

But that doesn’t mean they have to rip them off.

This may be the common sense of Arabs and Palestinians, and often bargaining is one way to communicate, but I think we should do legitimate business and offer a reasonable price in good faith to the other party from the beginning. The need to be sincere should be universal, regardless of culture and religion.

It may be an excuse or a sore loser, but I paid the $300 as said, consoling myself that I might as well pay as said in order to justify making a fair claim later.

If you meet a Palestinian in Japan, I would like to ask him what he thinks about this. I guess they would answer that it is only some people.

To a Palestinian refugee camp

After that, but before returning to the checkpoint, we were taken to a Palestinian refugee camp. I guess they wanted us to know about the oppression of Israel in their own way. I don’t understand their feelings, but to tell the truth, I felt strongly that it was us who should be sympathetic right now from the point of view of one tourist who had been ripped off just before that.

“Although I was asked to take a picture of the area, I didn’t feel much sympathy for them because it looked like a dirty and desolate place and it seemed to reflect a part of their mind rather than their appearance. By the way, there are some pictures of protest against Israel by a British artist written here and there all over this area. It seems he wanted to have this photographed and sent out to the world.

It’s not that I side with Israel one way or the other. It does not mean that I favor Palestine as well. While understanding the historical background, I take a neutral and equal standpoint religiously and politically. From that point of view, I will judge whether it is good or bad only by the “hospitality” toward me, who is now a tourist.

In addition, I’m going to Morocco after this, but I think that in the city center of Morocco, they put a price tag on the shop properly and did business in a way that they did not rip you off excessively but presented a fair market price in advance, although there may be some negotiation. I have a good feeling this way much more.

Experience from Failure

If you want to go to Bethlehem, I think it is safer to arrange a local tour in Jerusalem. You can go through the hotel where you stayed, or you can go to the agency by the Yaffo Gate. If it is a shuttle bus tour in the price, it was the feeling of 200 to 300 shkel at most. In short, it is unlikely to cost 10,000 yen. Maybe you can find a cheaper tour.

If you charter a taxi, it will be half a day or a day, so it might cost more than 10,000 yen, or even 20,000 yen in some cases. In that sense, I was taken twice as much, I guess.

In any case, I keenly felt that it is important to do more preliminary research beforehand, and also to negotiate well locally.

Again to the Israeli side.

After thanking the cab driver for his help, we passed through the checkpoint from the Palestinian Authority side. On the route from Israel to Palestine, there were no checkpoints at all, but on the route from Palestine to Israel, there seemed to be an X-ray inspection of baggage and an ID check. However, the X-ray inspection of baggage was mandatory for everyone, but the ID check seemed to be only for Palestinians, and I, who had a Japanese passport, was not even allowed to see the contents of my passport.

So it took longer time than the way to Jerusalem, but we passed through the checkpoint safely, and got on the bus at the place where the bus stopped on the way to Jerusalem. By the way, this bus didn’t have a destination written on it, so I got on after checking if it was going to the city just in case. We arrived at Jerusalem Damascus Gate, seeing very well maintained roads and streets again.

To the Jewish Quarter.

After passing through the bustling area around the Damascus Gate, we headed back to the area around the Wall of Woe. I thought it was said that you can enter the Temple Hill again from 1 p.m., so I went to the gate right next to the Wall of Sorrow, but there was no sign of opening. I thought it was strange, so I checked the guidebook and found that it said “No entry on Friday and Saturday”. It was a check omission.

I had no choice but to wander around the Jewish Quarter.

It’s a small corner of the south side of Jerusalem, but it’s very well maintained and the streets and houses are beautiful. We took a leisurely stroll for about an hour. After that, I went to the hotel because I was hungry and tired. After that, I went to the hotel.

Lunchtime, drinks on tap!

It was lunch time right next to the hotel. Near the hotel is a Christian district, so some restaurants “serve alcohol!

It became the first beer in Israel. They are also making beer and wine in Israel. After all, I’m happy to drink under this fine weather.

Through the Armenian Quarter to the Hill of Zion

After a light meal, we explore the city a bit more. Now we head to the southwest side of Jerusalem city. First of all, there is the Armenian Quarter. However, there are few attractions, and the church is also prohibited from photography in principle. I think it was not a good area for sightseeing. The people were also kind of bland.

If you head further south, you will come to the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. If you pass through the “Zion Gate” here, you will reach the area area called “Zion Hill”.

There are also many historical sites here. The most notable ones are the room where the Last Supper was held, the Tomb of King David, and the Church of the Eternal Rest of Mary. Perhaps that’s why there were so many tourists here.

First of all, the room of the Last Supper. There is nothing in this area now, but it is still romantic because it is a place in the Bible. It is an important place for Christians, but it was also protected during the time when Muslim forces occupied Jerusalem.

Then, the Tomb of King David. David was one of the greatest kings for Jews. So, a lot of Jewish people were reading the Bible and praying. By the way, you can visit for free, but taking pictures is not allowed. It was very small, very clean and well kept. And maybe because there were desks and bookshelves in the building, there was some kind of atmosphere like a study room.

Finally, we visited the Church of the Eternal Burial of Mary. This church was also very beautiful, but there were surprisingly few people. Because the church is managed by a German organization, there were some German words, and German was often heard in the church. I thought it was an old church, but it was a relatively new church built in 1910.

Dinner will be in Christ Parish.

I’m still feeling the effects of jet lag, so I took a short nap and rested. Then night. Tonight is the night to eat out. So we wandered around the Christian area near the hotel in search of alcohol. There seemed to be a restaurant in the nearby Armenian district where we could drink, but it was a bit far away and I didn’t have a good personal impression of it, so we chose the Christian district near the hotel. We found a nice European-style restaurant and chose this one.

This time we had wine, a Jerusalem style salad for our meal, and the main dish of the day. The wine was Israeli wine, the taste was not bad, and the meal was very tasty. It was also impressive that there were many tourists from Europe. By the way, the rice was delicious.

You probably won’t be able to drink alcohol when you go to Morocco, so you have to drink here.

The Wall of Woe, the Palestinian territories, the Armenian Quarter, the Hill of Zion, and the first drink in Israel, it was a day full of excitement compared to the day before. I think I could enjoy the history and power of Jerusalem to the fullest. Now, the next day is the last day of our stay in Jerusalem. I have to go to the hill of the temple by all means!