The Separation Wall stretches across the ancient land of Palestine. Like the walls of any European ghetto or East Berlin or any prison, it proclaims the might of the State (in this case Israel) and its 'right' to control all who live in this land according to its own rules, right or wrong.
And it is wrong. It is hateful. It is hate itself.
The city of Bethlehem is a prison today. In order to leave Bethlehem, we join the local inhabitants who must pass through a cattle run that stretches a good 300 meters, with metal bars keeping people gated in. I feel claustrophobic. Then we must pass through two lockable turnstiles with a courtyard in between. After the second one, a metal detector must be traversed, with all metal objects and shoes placed in bins to pass through an X-ray as in the airport. But that isn't enough. We are then herded into line, and must show identification papers to a border guard. Palestinians must also be fingerprinted. Only then, if all gates have been passed, are we allowed to walk out beyond the walls of Bethlehem.
This can take hours. Which means, if you work on the other side of the Wall you must line up in the early hours of the morning, and never know when you might make it home. It means that if you own an Olive grove outside the new wall, you will lose it. Any land uncultivated for three years is taken by the Israeli government. So people are locked away from their land.
Yet the feeling inside Bethlehem is welcoming. People deeply appreciate that we have taken the time to come. The Israeli government will do anything to stop people staying the night in Bethlehem. Tourists come for day tours only. Our hotel is nearly empty and the people so kind. We spend an evening in the courtyard of a local businessman, sharing his food and listening to his stories. The stars shine down as they always do here in Bethlehem.
Jewish Israeli citizens are not allowed into Bethlehem by order of the Israeli government. They do not want their citizens to see the poverty, the way the wall has killed commerce and created suffering. Better to believe people are happy to be imprisoned behind the wall. Good fences make good neighbors...
The Wall is a travesty of human rights. Still it grows, separating people, whispering hate. The Palestinians fight back, decorating the wall with proclamations of peace and brotherly love. I pray their wishes come true. I pray we open our eyes. I pray we remember that Jesus came to set the prisoners free - his words not mine. And he came here first. I pray the Wall comes down.