BBC Correspondent Aleem Maqboul has just completed a ten-day journey — on foot, with a donkey (actually, a series of donkeys) — from Nazareth (in Israel) to Bethlehem (just south of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank). His intention was to replicate the journey taken by Joseph and Mary some 2008 years ago, as recounted by Luke in the New Testament of the Bible.
Maqboul wrote in his trip diary’s final entry today that “throughout history, change in this part of the world has often come unexpectedly and in dramatic fashion. According to the Bible, a journey here made by a man, a heavily-pregnant woman and a donkey changed the world in an instant. Around two millennia on, their story still impacts on the lives of hundreds of millions of people”. The diary can be read in full on the BBC website here .
He also wrote: “Much of the trip was a reminder that, however obvious this sounds, people in a conflict zone are as three-dimensional as those anywhere else. There were, of course, sad indications of the tensions here. There was the silence of hundreds of people as they buried a 22-year-old militant in the village of Yamoon, after an Israeli army raid”. [n.b. – Maqboul wrote on this killing on 16 December, a day after he started his trip, saying: “On the news of one such raid, on a village close to the border crossing, I decided to take a detour. The raid was over, and the army had gone. They had killed a 22-year-old man, Jihad Nawahda. We were told he was a local leader of the Islamic Jihad militant group and had been wanted by the Israeli army for some time. Funeral prayers had already been carried out, and by the time I arrived, hundreds of men escorted the body to the cemetery for immediate burial, in accordance with Muslim tradition. A few black and yellow Islamic Jihad flags were carried in silence by the mourners”. This killing provoked a large increase in the number of “projectiles” being fired from Gaza onto Israeli territory in the vicinity of the northern Gaza strip. This entry in Maqboul’s trip diary can be found on this page.]
His final trip diary entry continued: “A sense of how far apart the worlds of Jewish settlers and Palestinian villagers were, how little interaction there was between the two and how entrenched their views are. And then there was the military checkpoint that greets visitors entering Bethlehem. But people along the way did speak of hope – though not necessarily expectation – that things would get better one day”.
However, on 23 December, Maqboul passed through Ramallah and then Jerusalem on his way, and noted: “Ramallah is the city in which I have lived for more than a year-and-a-half. Amid all the chaos and conflict in other parts of the Palestinian Territories, Ramallah tries hard to cocoon itself. Three Palestinian refugee camps are incorporated into the city; Jewish settlements expand on the hills around it; access to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, or parts of the northern West Bank has become difficult – yet the building work on new apartment blocks all over Ramallah points to the beginnings of economic progress. Socially too, the city has tried to remain resilient. An evening out in any number of fancy restaurants or bars hypnotises the wealthiest of Ramallah’s residents into thinking that all is well in the world. Many Palestinians here, outwardly at least, seem determined not to concern themselves even with the dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, for example. Underneath, most acknowledge that Ramallah’s future is still incredibly fragile. Approaching the Kalandia checkpoint, through which I needed to pass continue my journey, I noticed a large, new piece of graffiti on the familiar grey … I negotiated the queues, turnstiles and x-ray machines with few hold-ups, and headed through the crossing towards the centre of Jerusalem. I was turned back at a subsequent, smaller, checkpoint [n.b., we know which one that was — the infamous “ar-Ram” checkpoint at Dahiet al-Bariid, and for more details and descriptions see our other posts on this blog], but it was a minor inconvenience as I knew a route around it…”
I don’t know what happened to the comments that I read on the site at an earlier stage of Maqboul’s journey …