Bethlehem

When I stepped off the bus in Bethlehem, I was immediately swarmed by taxi drivers looking for work. Slightly overwhelmed, I tried to wave off a few of them and walk down the street, but I ended up talking to one of them who offered to show me the wall, and I decided to take him up on it. For the next several hours, Yousef drove me around the city to see the sights, told me about the city’s recent history, and shared his perspective. It was invaluable, and I know I made the right call in hiring him.

Yousef smoked out the window of the cab as he told me about his seven sons, who are between the ages of 7 and 25. He’s sending them all to university, somehow, with his meager salary working two jobs, and some family help. In the mornings, he is an Arabic teacher at a local high school, which, apparently, is a persona he cannot shake in the afternoons. He tried his best to teach me a few words in Arabic, and quizzed me on what I’d recited at unexpected moments, like when I had just gotten back in the cab. In the end, only a few things stuck after I finally had the sense to break out my notepad and jot down phonetic notes and translations.

After seeing the city and stopping for prayer and postcards in Manger Square, we drove a ways out of town to a hill where I had a view of everything from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. From there, the landscape looked rugged, unforgiving, unimaginably ancient. We could pick out Jewish settlers’ communities by their red tile roofs. They seemed more numerous than the Palestinian housing. A small Israeli military base kept watch near the road, ensconced in barbed wire. Yousef told me that if he were president, he would institute a one-state solution (with a presidency that rotated between Israelis and Palestinians) which was something I hadn’t heard before. When I mentioned it to Jesse later, he told me it was actually a pretty common idea among Palestinians.

After our excursion to the hill, Yousef invited me back to his home for tea. This is a very common gesture of hospitality and I was thrilled to accept. He taught me a few Arabic greetings for his family members and I managed to remember them during the short drive to his village. At the house, I got to meet 4 of his sons, and his wife, who prepared a delicious, traditional Palestinian soup in addition to mint tea. They were so welcoming and generous and I felt very comfortable in their home. Their youngest son, Akram, took this picture of myself, Yousef, and his wife using my camera. He was a pretty good photographer after a few tries and a quick lens change to account for the dim living room.

We headed back to the Bethlehem bus stop and parted ways. I was a little nervous about the checkpoint but didn’t have any trouble at all, but several other passengers were checked outside the bus. It was astonishing to see the security installations around the road to Bethlehem. Consisting of a tunnel, walls around the highway, numerous watchtowers, and a 5-lane checkpoint, the road between Bethlehem and Jerusalem is essentially a military fortress. These installations and accompanying laws have prevented Yousef from visiting the City of David since 2001 despite its proximity. Unfortunately this is a very, very common situation for Palestinians living in the West Bank.

The marker outside Yousef's village, part of Area A in the West Bank.

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About ktrenerry

I am inspired by human-powered, intentional travel and borderlands of all types: international, neighborhood boundaries, and especially the heavily disputed. My work often seeks to combine these two themes, resulting in projects that have taken me more than 1,000 miles down the Iron Curtain Trail by bike, and around and through some of today’s most notorious walls in Israel/Palestine, Cyprus, and Northern Ireland on foot. The latter journey was undertaken as part of my current independent project, Walking Walls. I am creating a book as the culmination of the project, forthcoming 2014.   I am currently living in Boston.

2 responses to “Bethlehem”

  1. policomic says :

    This is fascinating. I think that Americans who can see the complexities of the Israeli/Palestinian situation, nonetheless tend to see it in rather abstract terms. Needless to say, the situation is not so abstract for Yousef and his family, and reminding us of such human realities is why your project is so worthwhile.

    • David Bradley says :

      Dear Kate,

      In August 2010 we visited Bethlehem for one day.

      While there that day, we engaged the same taxi driver several times. He was a lovely gentleman by the name of Yousef. The same man you met. We too met him at the bus stop as we disembarked the bus from Jerusalem. He explained that he has seven children and lives out near Herod’s tomb. Yousef knew Brother Thomas (a teacher who taught me in the U.K.) as he (Yousef) explained that he teaches as well as driving a taxi. I know it’s a long shot but I’m wondering if by any chance you would have Yousef’s email address as he gave me his card with his email address – I had promised to contact him by email after returning home but have been unable to do so as I mislaid the card. My email address is davidjohnbradley@vodafone.ie
      Yousef was there when ever we needed him – he just popped up when we were unsure what to do next! He showed us the photo of his wife and family and explained he’d like to bring us to his home but could not because of Ramadan. Our last trip of the day after visiting someone we knew at the university (who couldn’t trace Yousef for me) was to the checkpoint and we could not have been in better hands. Yousef was just so honest & straightforward. Delighted to read your article and pictures about Yousef.

      David Bradley
      Ireland

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