Friday, 2 February 2018

PALESTINE: Bethlehem,The House of Bread Or Meat With Two Million Visitors A Year,Taxi Drivers Extremely Manipulative

Bethlehem is a small city located some 10 km (6 miles) south of the Old City of Jerusalem within the West Bank, in an "Area A" zone administered by the Palestinian Authority.

Its population is approximately 25,000 people. It is the capital of the Bethlehem Governorate. The economy is primarily tourist-driven.

Christians made up roughly 60% of the population in the early 16th century, while the Christian and Muslim population became equal by the mid-16th century.

However, there were no Muslim inhabitants counted by the end of the century, with a recorded population of 287 adult male tax-payers.

Christians, like all non-Muslims throughout the Ottoman Empire, were required to pay the jizya tax.

In 1867 an American visitor describes the town as having a population of 3,000 to 4,000; of whom about 100 were Protestants, 300 were Muslims and the remainder belonging to the Latin and Greek Churches with a few Armenians.

Another report from the same year puts the Christian population at 3,000, with an additional 50 Muslims.

In 1948, the religious makeup of the city was 85% Christian, mostly of the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic denominations, and 13% Muslim.

In the 1967 census taken by Israel authorities, the town of Bethlehem proper numbered 14,439 inhabitants, its 7,790 Muslim inhabitants represented 53.9% of the population, while the Christians of various denominations numbered 6,231 or 46.1%.

In the PCBS's 1997 census, the city had a population of 21,670, including a total of 6,570 refugees, accounting for 30.3% of the city's population.

After the Muslim conquest of the Levant in the 630s, the local Christians were Arabized even though large numbers were ethnically Arabs of the Ghassanid clans.

Bethlehem's two largest Arab Christian clans trace their ancestry to the Ghassanids, including al-Farahiyyah and an-Najajreh.

The former have descended from the Ghassanids who migrated from Yemen and from the Wadi Musa area in present-day Jordan and an-Najajreh descend from Najran.

Another Bethlehem clan, al-Anatreh, also trace their ancestry to the Ghassanids.

The percentage of Christians in the town has been steadily declining over the years, primarily due to emigration. The lower birth rate of Christians also accounts for some of the decline.

In 1947, Christians made up 85% of the population, but by 1998 the figure had declined to 40%.
In 2005, the mayor of Bethlehem, Victor Batarseh explained that due to the stress, either physical or psychological, and the bad economic situation.

Many people are emigrating, either Christians or Muslims, but it is more apparent among Christians, because they already are a minority.

The Palestinian Authority is officially committed to equality for Christians, although there have been incidents of violence against them by the Preventive Security Service and militant factions.

The only mosque in the Old City is the Mosque of Omar, located in the Manger Square.

The outbreak of the Second Intifada and the resulting decrease in tourism also affected the Christian minority, since they are the owners of many Bethlehem hotels and services that cater to foreign tourists.

A statistical analysis of the Christian exodus cited lack of economic and educational opportunity, especially due to the Christians' middle-class status and higher education.

Since the Second Intifada, 10% of the Christian population have left the city.

In 2006, the Palestinian Centre for Research and Cultural Dialogue conducted a poll among the city's Christians according to which 90% said they had had Muslim friends, 73.3% agreed that the PNA treated Christian heritage in the city with respect and 78% attributed the exodus of Christians to the Israeli blockade.

However, it is likely that there are many factors, most of which are shared with the Palestinian population as a whole.

The little town of Bethlehem, mentioned in any number of Christmas carols, attracts pilgrims worldwide on account of its description in the New Testament and particularly the Gospels as the birthplace of Jesus, whom Christians believe to be Messiah and Son of God.

Bethlehem now has a Muslim majority, but is still home to a significant Palestinian Christian community.

Bethlehem's chief economic sector is tourism, which peaks during the Christmas season when Christians make pilgrimage to the Church of the Nativity, as they have done for almost 2,000 years.

Bethlehem has over 30 hotels and 300 handicraft workshops.

Rachel's Tomb, an important Jewish holy site, is located at the northern entrance of Bethlehem.

The Church of the Nativity, one of the oldest churches in the world, is the focus of Christian veneration within the city.

Bethlehem is revered by Jews as the birthplace and home town of David, King of Israel, as well as the traditional site of Rachel's Tomb, on the outskirts of the town.

Although also home to many Muslims, Bethlehem remains home to one of the largest Arab Christian communities in the Middle East and one of the chief cultural and tourism destinations for the community.

Bethlehem is located at an elevation of about 775 meters (2,543 ft) above sea level, 30 meters (98 ft) higher than nearby Jerusalem.

Bethlehem is situated on the southern portion in the Judean Mountains.

The city is located 73 kilometers (45 mi) northeast of Gaza City and the Mediterranean Sea, 75 kilometers (47 mi) west of Amman, Jordan, 59 kilometers (37 mi) southeast of Tel Aviv, Israel and 10 kilometers (6.2 mi) south of Jerusalem.

Nearby cities and towns include Beit Safafa and Jerusalem to the north, Beit Jala to the northwest, Husan to the west, al-Khadr and Artas to the southwest, and Beit Sahour to the east.

Beit Jala and the latter form an agglomeration with Bethlehem. The Aida and Azza refugee camps are located within the city limits.

In the center of Bethlehem is its old city. The old city consists of eight quarters, laid out in a mosaic style, forming the area around the Manger Square.

The quarters include the Christian an-Najajreh, al-Farahiyeh, al-Anatreh, al-Tarajmeh, al-Qawawsa and Hreizat quarters and al-Fawaghreh, the only Muslim quarter.

Most of the Christian quarters are named after the Arab Ghassanid clans that settled there.

Al-Qawawsa Quarter was formed by Arab Christian emigrants from the nearby town of Tuqu' in the 18th century.

There is also a Syriac quarter outside of the old city, whose inhabitants originate from Midyat and Ma'asarte in Turkey. The total population of the old city is about 5,000.

Bethlehem includes the small towns of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour, the latter also having biblical significance.

Building up to the Millennium in the year 2000, Bethlehem underwent a massive largely foreign-funded project called Bethlehem 2000 in hopes of turning Bethlehem into a major tourist destination comparable to destinations such as Jerusalem or Tel Aviv in tourism infrastructure.

Unfortunately a year later, the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occurred and the ensuing violence scuttled these tourism efforts.

With the Palestinian uprising and violent clashes between both sides now have been over and done with for quite a few years.

Violence is now a thing of the past and many in Bethlehem hope to continue on where Bethlehem 2000 started them off.

A long snake of town, the main thoroughfare of Bethlehem is Manger Street which stretches from Rachel's Tomb and the road to Jerusalem all the way to Manger Square, the focal point of the city.

Manger Square is flanked by the Church of the Nativity on one side and the Mosque of Omar on the other.

The Old Town and the souq (market), which are best navigated on foot, stretch up the hill from Manger Square.

The name means The House of Bread in Hebrew, and The House of Meat in Arabic.

However, it seems likely that both meanings have been retrofitted onto what was originally the House of Lachma, the Mesopotamian god of fertility.

The area has been settled since 5,000 BC and there is some evidence that the town is mentioned in the Egyptian Amarna letters (1400 BC).

The Old Testament Book of Ruth 1150 BC has the first certain reference to Bethlehem; it tells the story of Naomi, who left Bethlehem during a famine, and later returned with her daughter-in-law Ruth.

Still, Bethlehem remained a small town in the shadow of mighty Jerusalem, and according to most estimates it had some 300 to 1000 inhabitants at the time of the event that gave Bethlehem its fame, namely the birth of Jesus.

Somewhat surprisingly, aside from noting that the Nativity indeed took place there, the New Testament virtually ignores Bethlehem.

The setback proved only temporary, and despite the turbulence of the 20th century the town has grown to an estimated 184,000 inhabitants.

On December 21, 1995, Bethlehem became one of the areas under the full control of the Palestinian Authority. In the city itself, 41% of the population is Christian, while 59% is Muslim.

Christians used to be a large majority but their numbers have declined throughout the 20th century.

Although Arabic is the language of Bethlehem's inhabitants, English, French and other languages are widely spoken and understood by many people in Bethlehem.

It should be noted as well that although Bethlehem is a Palestinian town, it is also a tourist-orientated town.

Because of Bethlehem's immense potential as a tourism magnet, the Palestinian Authority maintains a constant tourist police presence in the city.

For example, if escalations in violence are occurring in Southern Israel and the Gaza Strip, this does not mean that trips to other Palestinian cities such as Bethlehem should be seen as unsafe.

Bethlehem is a safe place to visit for tourists to visit and tourist numbers are increasing to this hidden gem of the Holy Land.

Shopping is a major attraction, especially during the Christmas season.

The city's main streets and old markets are lined with shops selling Palestinian handicrafts, Middle Eastern spices, jewelry and oriental sweets such as baklawa.

Olive wood carvings are the item most purchased by tourists visiting Bethlehem. Religious handicrafts include ornaments handmade from mother-of-pearl, as well as olive wood statues, boxes, and crosses.

Other industries include stone and marble-cutting, textiles, furniture and furnishings. Bethlehem factories also produce paints, plastics, synthetic rubber, pharmaceuticals, construction materials and food products, mainly pasta and confectionery.

Cremisan Wine, founded in 1885, is a winery run by monks in the Monastery of Cremisan.

The grapes are grown mainly in the al-Khader district. In 2007, the monastery's wine production was around 700,000 liters per year.

In 2008, Bethlehem hosted the largest economic conference to date in the Palestinian territories.

It was initiated by Palestinian Prime Minister and former Finance Minister Salam Fayyad to convince more than a thousand businessmen, bankers and government officials from throughout the Middle East to invest in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

A total of 1.4 billion US dollars was secured for business investments in the Palestinian territories.

Tourism is Bethlehem's main industry. Unlike other Palestinian localities prior to 2000, the majority of the employed residents did not have jobs in Israel.

More than 20% of the working population is employed in the industry. Tourism accounts for approximately 65% of the city's economy and 11% of the Palestinian National Authority.

The city has more than two million visitors every year.

The Church of the Nativity is one of Bethlehem's major tourist attractions and a magnet for Christian pilgrims.

It stands in the center of the city a part of the Manger Square over a grotto or cave called the Holy Crypt, where Jesus is believed to have been born.

Nearby is the Milk Grotto where the Holy Family took refuge on their Flight to Egypt and next door is the cave where St. Jerome spent thirty years creating the Vulgate, the dominant Latin version of the Bible until the Reformation.

There are over thirty hotels in Bethlehem. Jacir Palace, built in 1910 near the church, is one of Bethlehem's most successful hotels and its oldest.

It was closed down in 2000 due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but reopened in 2005 as the Jacir Palace InterContinental at Bethlehem.

Christmas rites are held in Bethlehem on three different dates, December 25 is the traditional date by the Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations.

But Greek, Coptic and Syrian Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 6 and Armenian Orthodox Christians on January 19.

Most Christmas processions pass through Manger Square, the plaza outside the Basilica of the Nativity.

Roman Catholic services take place in St. Catherine's Church and Protestants often hold services at Shepherds' Fields.

Bethlehem celebrates festivals related to saints and prophets associated with Palestinian folklore.

One such festival is the annual Feast of Saint George or al-Khadr on 5–6 May.

During the celebrations, Greek Orthodox Christians from the city march in procession to the nearby town of al-Khader to baptize newborns in the waters around the Monastery of St. George and sacrifice a sheep in ritual.

The Feast of St. Elijah is commemorated by a procession to Mar Elias, a Greek Orthodox monastery north of Bethlehem.

The women embroiderers of Bethlehem were known for their bridalwear. Bethlehem embroidery was renowned for its strong overall effect of colors and metallic brilliance.

Less formal dresses were made of indigo fabric with a sleeveless coat or bisht from locally woven wool worn over top.

Dresses for special occasions were made of striped silk with winged sleeves with a short taqsireh jacket known as the Bethlehem jacket.

The taqsireh was made of velvet or broadcloth, usually with heavy embroidery.

Bethlehem work was unique in its use of couched gold or silver cord, or silk cord onto the silk, wool, felt or velvet used for the garment, to create stylized floral patterns with free or rounded lines.

This technique was used for royal wedding dresses or thob malak, taqsirehs and the shatwehs worn by married women.

It has been traced by some to Byzantium, and by others to the formal costumes of the Ottoman Empire's elite.

As a Christian village, local women were also exposed to the detailing on church vestments with their heavy embroidery and silver brocade.

The art of mother-of-pearl carving is said to have been a Bethlehem tradition since the 15th century when it was introduced by Franciscan friars from Italy.

A constant stream of pilgrims generated a demand for these items, which also provided jobs for women. The industry was noted by Richard Pococke, who visited Bethlehem in 1727.

Bethlehem is home to the Palestinian Heritage Center, established in 1991. The center aims to preserve and promote Palestinian embroidery, art and folklore.

The International Center of Bethlehem is another cultural center that concentrates primarily on the culture of Bethlehem.

It provides language and guide training, woman's studies and arts and crafts displays, and training.

The Bethlehem branch of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music has about 500 students.

Its primary goals are to teach children music, train teachers for other schools, sponsor music research, and the study of Palestinian folklore music.

Bethlehem has four museums:

- The Crib of the Nativity Theatre and Museum offers visitors 31 3D models depicting the significant stages of the life of Jesus. Its theater presents a 20-minute animated show.

- The Badd Giacaman Museum, located in the Old City of Bethlehem, dates back to the 18th century and is primarily dedicated to the history and process of olive oil production.

- Baituna al-Talhami Museum, established in 1972, contains displays of Bethlehem culture.

- The International Museum of Nativity was built by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to exhibit "high artistic quality in an evocative atmosphere".

Nearly all travellers arrive via Jerusalem. Since Bethlehem is administered by the Palestinian Authority, an Israeli military checkpoint stands on the road connecting the two locations.

If entering from Jerusalem on a direct route, one will pass through the Rachel's Crossing Israeli checkpoint into Bethlehem.

If the bus stops at the checkpoint on the way into Palestine but often it does not, one simply flashes one's passport to an Israeli soldier, places one's bags into an X-ray machine, and then walks through a metal detector, much like airport security, to get into/exit Bethlehem.

As with all areas under Palestinian Authority control, Israeli law forbids Israeli citizens to enter unless they receive approval from the Israeli Civil Administration.

Tourists are free to enter and exit the checkpoint to Bethlehem and back to Jerusalem as many times as they would like without any restrictions.

Make sure you bring your passport with your Israeli-issued tourist visa to enter and exit the Palestinian areas.

Bethlehem has three bus stations owned by private companies which offer service to Jerusalem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, Hebron, Nahalin, Battir, al-Khader, al-Ubeidiya and Beit Fajjar.

There are two taxi stations that make trips to Beit Sahour, Beit Jala, Jerusalem, Tuqu' and Herodium.

There are also two car rental departments, Murad and Orabi. Buses and taxis with West Bank licenses are not allowed to enter Israel, including Jerusalem, without a permit.

The Israeli construction of the West Bank barrier has affected Bethlehem politically, socially, and economically.

The barrier is located along the northern side of the town's built-up area, within m of houses in Aida refugee camp on one side, and the Jerusalem municipality on the other.

Most entrances and exits from the Bethlehem agglomeration to the rest of the West Bank are currently subjected to Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks.

The level of access varies based on Israeli security directives. Travel for Bethlehem's Palestinian residents from the West Bank into Jerusalem is regulated by a permit-system.

Palestinians require a permit to enter the Jewish holy site of Rachel's Tomb. Israeli citizens are barred from entering Bethlehem and the nearby biblical Solomon's Pools.

You can easily hire a taxi in Jerusalem to take you to Bethlehem. The taxi must have a yellow license plate and the driver should be able to go to Area A in Bethlehem.

Any Arab taxi driver who has a yellow license plate can take you to Bethlehem and back to Jerusalem.

If you need assistance finding a driver ask your hotel or go to Damascus Gate in the Old City where many West Bank taxis and buses operate from.

Be careful if using a hire-car from West Jerusalem, as rental companies in Israel might make it clear that the car has to be used, and remain, on Israeli soil.

This is not the case if you rent the car in East Jerusalem.

There are three Arab/Palestinian bus stations nearby the Damascus Gate or Bab el-'Amoud that host buses going to various West Bank Palestinian cities.

The one to Bethlehem is on your left when you leave the Old City via Damascus Gate.

Note that Arab/Palestinian buses continue to operate during the day and early evening during Shabat and other Jewish holidays when Israeli public transport does not run.

Arab bus 21 or 231 sometimes also marked 234 runs via Beit Jala to Bethlehem.

These buses do not always display their numbers, the number is inaccurate, or it changes, so it is best to ask the driver.

The average trip length is 30 minutes. This route takes you straight into Bethlehem via the checkpoint between Beit Jala and Gilo on Highway 60 typically without needing to stop.

Some soldiers might come to check your passport on the bus, particularly when heading back into Jerusalem, but it's quite painless.

Tourists are supposed to remain on the bus while Palestinians must usually exit the bus and line up outside, especially if they do not have blue East Jerusalem ID cards or Israeli passports.

After you pass through the checkpoint, tell the driver where you're headed and he'll let you know what the best stop is to get off.

The bus terminates here at Bab Iz Qaq or Gate of the arches, a busy intersection at the center of Bethlehem.

From there you can either cab to the main area or just walk 15 minutes or so up the hill at the intersection when you get off the bus.

Cab drivers are fairly persistent though not aggressive, so the best way to avoid them is to simply decline politely say Laa, shukran and walk on.

A general rule is that the cab drivers that hang around waiting for customers particularly tourists are more likely to rip you off.

Though if you are keen to see some Banksy murals you may be able to haggle to get a good deal here, just make sure to agree on a price before getting into any taxi.

To return to Jerusalem at Bab Iz Qaq, wait for the bus at the same side of the road that you were dropped off.

Shared taxis or sherut/servees leave from the Arab bus station nearby Damascus Gate and manage the trip in 20 minutes.

If you want to go to/from Rachel's Tomb, then there is minibus 234 that also leaves from the same bus station in Jerusalem, runs directly to the Bethlehem Checkpoint and back.

But if you do not want to go to Rachel's Tomb then bus 231 is better. There are also Israeli Egged buses going to Rachel's checkpoint.

Make sure to bring a passport and Israeli visa slip. It may also be the case that you are waved through without any inspection.

From the checkpoint, you can either walk half an hour or take a taxi to the center of Bethlehem (25shekels), which is about 3 km away.

Devoted pilgrims often prefer to walk and in happier times there has been a large procession at Christmas.
At a brisk pace the trip is doable in 2 hours but there are plenty of ups and downs along the way and the summer heat is fearsome.

For first time visitors who may be surprised at how busy Bethlehem is, it may be best to travel by taxi although a taxi is good if someone feels lost if a 2km walk is a problem.

There are traffic jams on some streets so one may walk as fast as taxi drives. Bethlehem is a small city so taxi rides can be quite cheap, depending on your haggling skills.

From the checkpoint to the Church of the Nativity and anywhere within Bethlehem city, it should cost no more than ₪20.

To travel from Bethlehem to its neighboring suburbs of Beit Sahour or Beit Jala, it should be no more than ₪25-30.

To travel to any of the destinations located outside of these areas such as Herodium, any of the surrounding Monasteries or Solomon's Pools it's advisable to negotiate a price with a taxi driver at the Bethlehem bus station.

Many taxi drivers are willing to take you to a site, wait there while you tour a site and then take you back to Bethlehem for a negotiated price.

Whenever negotiating a taxi price, always say the lowest price you think would be reasonable for the trip, and bargain with the driver from there.

The driver will start as high as he thinks he can charge and bargain down for you. Make sure to agree on a price before going into a taxi.

Some Bethlehem taxi drivers can be extremely welcoming, but also extremely manipulative.

Be absolutely firm with them about where you want to go, or they may unilaterally appoint themselves your tour guide and take you everywhere they want you to go.

This should include attractions you didn't ask to see and stores from which they receive a commission.

Some may even invite you to have coffee at their home or even spend the night, but in return expect to be your tour guide for the duration of your time in Palestine.

You can bargain them down to reasonable prices if you're tough, so if you don't want the hassle of trying to make your own way around.

This can be a lovely way to see Palestine and spend time with a Palestinian family.

However, if you like to explore independently and dislike being guilted/pressured into making decisions, it's best not to hire a single driver for the whole day.

Alternatively, if you do not wish to see the city through cab window you can first get to Manger square around 20 min on foot from the bus stop you arrive from Jerusalem.

There you can find a tourist information office and get a free map and a lot of valuable information about transportation there.

They will eagerly provide you with sherut destinations and fair prices which allows you to save considerably as well as to feel the real taste of the Arab culture.

For example, to visit Herodium by taxi will cost you about ₪200 return, while you can get there by sherut for ₪5 one way + 30 min walk.

Church of the Nativity, Manger Square - undoubtedly the top attraction in Bethlehem, a veritable citadel built fortress-like on top of the cave where Jesus was born to Mary.

It is one of the oldest churches in the world. The first incarnation of the building was erected on the orders of the Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great in 330 CE.

While the layout largely corresponds to Emperor Justinian's plans from 540 CE the first building having been destroyed in a 536 riot.

The church was first heavily fortified by the Crusaders and then degraded mostly through neglect under Mamluk rule.

An earthquake in 1834 and a fire in 1869 didn't help.

Today, the structure is mostly sound but somewhat dark and gloomy in appearance, only the adjoining Franciscan Church of St Catherine being in excellent shape.

The actual alleged site of Jesus' birth, is located in a cave in the church the original Manger where Jesus was born was a cave, not a shed, as popularly depicted.

There is a star marking the exact location of Jesus' birth in the cave. The original Manger with the star marking Jesus' birth site is called the Grotto of the Nativity, and is accessible from inside the church.

The tomb of famed theologian and Bethlehem resident St. Jerome, who spent his life translating the Bible, is also in the cave with the Grotto.

Entrance to the entire complex is free, but in the high season be prepared for massive crowds and hour-long waits for entry into the Grotto.

There are usually accredited tour-guides waiting at the entrance of the church who offer to give tours to groups/individuals. Make sure to agree on a price before taking the tour.

Rachel's Tomb, the burial place of the matriarch Rachel, wife of Jacob and mother of Joseph and Benjamin is the second most important historical site for Christians in Bethlehem.

It is a holy site in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. As a result of the security situation, the Tomb's original structure has been surrounded by an Israeli fortress, barricading it off from Bethlehem.

While the original tomb can still be seen in its entirety from within the fortress, access to the tomb is now restricted to those travelling by Egged bus from Jerusalem.

Minor sights include the Milk Grotto Chapel, where Mary supposedly spilled a few drops of breast milk while feeding Jesus as she hid before the Holy Family's escape to Egypt, turning the cavern milky white.

It is open all day. The white powder scrapped from the cave is also sold as a fertility medicine inside the chapel.

The Mosque of Omar A mosque in active use. Rather plain and uninteresting on the inside but somewhat pretty on the outside.

Solomon's Pools Three huge Herodian-era stone carved reservoirs capable of holding 160,000 cubic meters of water.

They are located in a pine tree forest about 3km from Bethlehem in a beautiful hiking area called the Artas Valley.

In Artas, there is also the very beautiful Italian Order of the Sisters of Mary of the Garden built the Hortus Conclusus Convent and as well a Palestinian Folklore museum.

Artas village also boasts an annual lettuce festival.

King David's Wells King David's Wells (Biyar Daoud) in King David street, off Manger Square, are three Great Cisterns excavated in the rock in Ras Eftais, an eastern sector of Bethlehem, marking the site where David's army broke through a Philistine garrison to bring him water.

"Oh that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem" (2 Sam. 23:15).

It is believed by some that under the adjacent Church of St. David is where the King is buried, as opposed to the traditional tomb in Jerusalem.

The cisterns were discovered in 1895. The church rested on a vast Necropolis composed of 18 Arcosolia with two to six tombs each. The cemetery was Christian as proved by the inscription.

The Catholic Action Club lies on the site of one of the cisterns.

The Old City is also good for a stroll and shopping if you haven't seen an Arab city before.

The graffiti by famed yet mysterious artist Banksy, drawn on the barrier wall dividing Bethlehem from Jerusalem, has drawn worldwide media attention and is definitely worth a look.

There are many other artists' work as well, including a Palestinian version of Guernica. To see this, it is probably best to hire a taxi.
Herodium, A must see. The site of King Herod's man made mountain and his recently discovered tomb. It is located near Bethlehem.

Once at Bethlehem's bus station called the mujamma, negotiate a price with a taxi driver who will take you to the site, wait for you there, and drop you back off at the Bethlehem bus station.

Should be reasonable, better to go with a group of people and split the cab cost. Another option is to take the sherut which will drop you off nearby for only 5 NIS but you will have to walk 30 min.

The Monastery of St. George/ Al Khader, (Al Khader village). Visit the village of Al Khader beside Bethlehem to see the Monastery of St George a very important Christian Saint for Orthodox Christians, also called Mar Jeriess in Arabic.

The monastery is said to hold relics from the saint that posess healing powers-especially for mental illness.

The monastery was used in the 19th century as a psychiatric facility to treat mental illness by using St George's relics.

The site is also venerated in Muslim tradition as the setting for the Muslim prophet Al Khider's teachings.

In mid-April or early May it goes by the Julian calendar, the town both Muslims and Christians hold a festival for St.George that is worth seeing.
St Elias Monastery. Visit the St Elias Monastery, an ancient Orthodox Christian monastery built over the ruins of a Byzantine church is located on the outer edge of Bethlehem.

It is surrounded by beautiful surroundings that remind one of what Bethlehem's scenery may have looked like in Biblical times.

Monastery of Mar Saba, 15 km from Bethlehem.. 8am-5pm. The monastery of Mar Saba is located only 6km from St. Theodosius and 15 km from Bethlehem.

Few of the Byzantine desert monasteries can match the serenity and beauty this monastery.

Clinging to the cliff face of the Kidron Valley, this immense and spectacular Greek Orthodox Monastery evokes a thrilling shock when its first comes into view in the midst of a desert landscape.

The Monastery is named after Saint Saba who settled in a cave opposite the actual site in complete seclusion that lasted some 5 years.

Built into the rock, Mar Saba represents a way of life unchanged since the time of Constantine.

The body of Saint Saba can be seen in the principle church while his tomb is paved in the courtyard outside.

The first church founded by Saint Saba is marked by the Chapel of St Nicholas. Although Mar Saba is reputed for its hospitality to strangers, women have never been allowed to enter.

Hence women can enjoy a glimpse of the chapel and building from a nearby two storey tower known as the Women’s Tower.

Monastery of St. Theodosius. The Monastery of St. Theodosius also known in Arabic as Deir Dosi is located about 12 Km east of Bethlehem.

Founded by St. Theodosius in the late 5th to early 6th century stands on the site where the three wise men rested on their way back from visiting the Infant Jesus in Bethlehem.

The original monastery was destroyed during the Persian invasion.

St. Theodosius died in 529 CE and at that time there was said to be some 400 monks living in the Monastery who were massacred by the Persians during the invasion of 614 CE.

The Monastery was restored in 1893 by the Greek Orthodox Church and it encompasses the remains of an old Crusader building.

Today the Monastery is inhabited by a dozen Greek Orthodox monks. A white-walled cave marks the place where the founder, St. Theodosius is buried. 8am-3pm.

The scenery around Bethlehem-perfect for hiking!

Visit Solomon's Pools, and hike in the Artas Valley, believed to be the site of hortus conclusus, Solomon’s erotic Canticle or Song of Songs.

Thou art like a garden enclosed, my sister, my spouse, like a sealed fountain. Thy plantations are a paradise of delights. Artas is just a short Taxi ride outside of the city.

Dance at Cosmos nightclub, located in Beit Jala at the top of the hill, or at Cheers or Roots Lounge in Beit Sahour.

Hike outside of Mar Elias, an ancient Orthodox Christian monastery, located to the East of Bethlehem and accessible via taxi.

Participate in homestays and volunteer opportunities organized by the Holy Land Trust, such as the Palestine Summer Encounter in which one stays with with a host family for 1-3 months.

Studies Arabic, volunteers in Bethlehem, visits different Palestinian and Israeli cities, and meets with both Israeli and Palestinian peace makers.

Celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem, spend Christmas in the town where it all began.

Bethlehem is decked out in Christmas decorations for the Holiday season.

Make sure to attend Midnight Mass led by the various leaders of the Holy Land's Christian denominations on Christmas Eve with the thousands of both foreign and local worshipers who gather in Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity.

Christmas is just magical in Bethlehem, there is nothing like it. The Christmas season is definitely the most exciting time to be in Bethlehem, much Christmas spirit is present in the town.

The All Nations Cafe organizes summer caravans where internationals can learn about the social, political and cultural fabrics of life in and around Bethlehem.

The Holy Land Trust organizes tours of many cities in Palestine for both politically inclined tourists and religous tourists.

They are also able to organize homestays with local families and or short term/long term volunteer opportunities in the Bethlehem area for willing participants.

The Bethlehem Bible College offers Bible study courses in English, Arabic, and other languages

The Arabic School for Overseas Students & Diplomats at Bethlehem University offers month-long intensive courses (January, July, and August) in Spoken and Media Arabic, catering to all levels of proficiency.

While Bethlehem's souq is a lot smaller than Jerusalem's, it is much less touristy and the sellers are less aggressive and very friendly, many even offer potential customers coffee and tea.

The Palestinian Authority doesn't charge a sales tax, so Bethlehem's shopkeepers charge much less for souvenirs. Bethlehem is a perfect place to practice those bargaining skills that you were hoping to try out.

If buying gold jewelry in Bethlehem or Jerusalem old market, avoid buying gold as most of the items are gold plated silver.

Planned tours going with guides from tourist information center in Jerusalem old city will also stop at some shops in Bethlehem for you to buy the fake items.

In peaceful times, Bethlehem's traders do a roaring trade in souvenirs for pilgrims to the town.

In the current situation, the tour operators prefer to quickly hustle their guided groups in and out of the Nativity Church without allowing them time to look around Manger Square.

Often, at the end of the tour, they will take their groups to a pre-selected souvenir shop and charge the owner of the shop a big commission for the sales made to the tour group.

That means most smaller souvenir shops here are blessedly free from pilgrims, and also that the smaller shops are in desperate need of business.

They remain, however, substantially less aggressive than Jerusalem's sellers. Souvenir shops in Bethlehem are much, much cheaper than in Jerusalem.

With all the same selection surprisingly, many Bethlehem souvenir shops even have Jewish themed souvenirs.

One must venture out of Manger square to the souvenir shops on Manger Street and also in the market place beside Manger Square past the Mosque of Omar.

The smaller looking souvenir shops offer the best deals and very friendly service.

Bethlehem is an awesome place to get all your Holy Land souvenirs for much, much cheaper than you would get them in Israel.

If a price is listed in USD, it's a hiked price for tourists, so don't hesitate to bargain for a much lower price, you will almost always get a lower price if you ask for it.

You must visit the Milk Grotto Church which is two minutes away from the Nativity Church.

On your way up there, look for an Olive Wood factory located on the Milk Grotto Street, with the name Christmas House Olive Wood Factory.

The guys there can provide you with an amazing tour of their workshop and you can see how they hand carve things from the olive trees, a must see.

Very friendly Christian family, and they also have a gift shop, where you can find really unique gifts. Also they have another gift shop right in the manger square next to the peace center building.

Just off Manger Square on Milk Grotto Street there are a number of souvenir shops selling various religious gifts and Bethlehem's famous olive wood carvings.

I found the Tabash Nativity Store friendly, not pushy, and willing to give discounts. They will also offer you a free Turkish coffee.

Visit one of Bethlehem's four refugee camps for traditional Palestinian handicrafts, handmade olive oil soap, and beautiful embroidery.

Bethlehem Souvenir, a Christian Gifts shop/e-store, Jerusalem - Hebron Rd (By Rachel's Tomb), Welcome to Bethlehem Souvenir - christian gifts.

Offers christian gifts such as Olive wood, cross, silver, gold, Ceramic from Palestine

Christian Gifts Shop (Christian Gifts), By Rachel's Tomb, Hebron Road. Sells Christian souvenirs, piece of Bethlehem to share with your family and friends.

Many items in store with world wide delivery option.

Jewelry stores in the market places, across the Manger Square past the Mosque of Omar. The Middle East is known for its top quality, beautiful gold and jewelry.

Bethlehem has some really nice jewelry stores that sell higher carat gold jewelry for really, really cheap.

This is an excellent opportunity to get high carat gold (up to 22 carats) for a fraction of what you'd pay back home.

Holy Star Gifts across from Caritas Children's Hospital, on the opposite side of the Separation Wall from Rachel's tomb; ask a taxi to take you to the Anastas family shop, Christian souvenir shop surrounded on three sides by the Wall.

Visit to do some shopping and hear the story of the Anastas family's struggles living next to the Wall. The family also operates a bed & breakfast and gives tours and talks about Palestinian life to groups.

Taybeh beer-a Palestinian beer brand from the village of Taybeh nearby Ramallah

The Peace Centre, Manger Square - excellent value and good food and local Canaan wine. Clean and airy with inside and outside seating.

Shepherds Valley Village - The Tent Restaurant, Beit Sahour. Nearby the Shepherd's Field. Good local cuisine in an outdoor setting or tent in winter. Good views across the valley.

Mundo Restaurant, Manger Street on the Main Road, not far from Nativity Square11:00am - 11:00pm. Mundo Restaurant makes the best pizza in Bethlehem, if not all of Palestine.

Prices are excellent, especially considering the high-quality ingredients that are used for the pizza and all the meals.

The restaurant provides a family-friendly atmosphere and an excellent view that is popular for tourists and locals alike.

The Citadel - The Citadel Restaurant, Beith Sahour. Local cuisine and Taybeh beer in an old Bethlehem building with a friendly staff.

Random felafel stand opposite the Nativity Church. Facing the Peace Center with Nativity Church to your right, there is a felafel stand at the corner, with a basement restaurant attached.

Bonjour Restaurant & Cafe, John Paul II Street. 9am-1130pm. Located right next to Bethlehem University in the heart of Bethlehem, Bonjour offers international cuisine with a Arabic flair in a stylish, relaxing space.

Owned by two young Palestinian entrepreneurs, Bonjour has free Wi-fi, great coffee, and an attractive menu. Arabic, English, and Hebrew spoken.

Stars and Bucks Cafe, down hill from the Church of the Nativity. This knock-off of Starbucks offers Starbucks styled beverages as well as Arabic snacks. The also serve very good homemade ice-cream.

Afteem Restaurant, on the outer, downhill edge of Manger Square. If you love falafel, fresh homemade hummus, and other tasty Arabic food you must visit this restaurant

It Probably one of the best falafel shops in Palestine or Israel. The falafel is so good, shops come from as far away as Haifa to buy the raw mix.

Abu Shanab, Ring road. The best grills in town, served by two brothers with impressive moustaches.

Fresh ingredients and the meat are chopped and prepared in front of you using traditional methods. The restaurant issues certificates stating that you have eaten there.

Dar Jdoudnah, off Manger Square, A fine bar with excellent snacks, particularly the Sambusek wild thyme-and-cheese pastries.

The name means "Our Grandfather’s House", and the walls are filled with evocative photographs of old Bethlehem

Bon Jour Café, adjacent to Bethlehem University. A brand new western style café adjacent to Bethlehem University.

With its stylish look and relaxed atmosphere Bon Jour has quickly become a popular hangout. The Cafe is best known for its wide selection of coffees and its early morning breakfast.

Beit Jala Pork Butcher Shop, downtown Beit Jala. Craving some fresh pork in the Holy Land?

Beit Jala's pork butchery is a rarity in a land where Muslims and Jews both don't eat pork.

The Wall Lounge, nearby the entrance to Bethlehem.

This very innovate restaurant takes a symbol of despair, the massive Israeli barrier separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem, and turns it into an asset for his business.

The restaurant's menu is posted on a huge sign onto the barrier and as well, at night soccer games are projected onto a huge projector screen put on the wall for people to view on outdoor tables.

This place is alot of fun to eat, drink, and watch some sports on a big movie-theater style projector screen.

Toast R Us, the Main street of Bethlehem. This restaurant serves frozen yoga (frozen yougrt), ice-cream both the Arabic ice-cream and regular gelato, crepes, sandwiches, milkshakes, and more.

The Cremisan Monestery/Winery in Bethlehem's suburb-Beit Jala

Enjoy the atmosphere and hang out with friends for dinner or a few drinks at Bistro lounge bar in Beit Jala.

al-khema (The Tent), Beit Sahour beside the Shepherd's Field. This restaurant, is enclosed in a huge tent.

It serves good food, excellent drink menu especially the Palestinian beer brand Taybeh, and also offers a great selection for hookah or flavoured tobacco.

Visit the famous Cremisan Cellars Winery located in the Bethlehem suburb of Beit Jala.

This Winery, also the site of the ancient Cremisan Monestery, is on a hilltop and offers a spectacular view of the valley below it and as well of the surrounding Jerusalem and Bethlehem area.

A must visit for any wine enthusiast. Cremisan Cellars.

Layal Night club, (Beit Jala). This nightclub plays mostly Arabic pop music. There is usually a younger crowd here.

Make sure to have a female when going to the nightclub because often when there are too many male patrons, they only let males in if they have girls with them.

Numerous Liquor shops. Bethlehem, being a Christian Palestinian city, is abundant with liquor stores selling various alcoholic beverages for very, very cheap prices.

The local specialty is a Arabic liquor called Arak. It tastes like liquorice and is often mixed in lemonade or in ice-water.

Taboo Bar, Beit Jala Main st Normandi area (Beit Jala). This bar is popular with young Palestinians, good drinks and great food served.

Coffee Break, After the check point.

The problem of finding somewhere to stay as encountered by Mary and Joseph are long gone in Bethlehem. There are many options to choose from.

Because Jerusalem is often the place where tourist stay rather than Bethlehem, Bethlehem's hotels offer much cheaper rates than Israeli hotels in order to entice tourists to stay in Bethlehem rather than just do a day tour of the historic sites and then quickly leave back to Israel.

Bargaining for a cheaper hotel price usually works in Bethlehem. Feel free to email/phone numerous Bethlehem hotels for quotes and compare the prices, it definitely saves you money rather than staying in an overpriced Jerusalem hotel.

Note, for phone numbers in the Palestinian territories, there are two area codes: +972 and +970. If one of the area codes don't work for a contact number, try the phone number again using the other area code.

Abdaa center, Abdaa center is a cutural center in the Dheisheh refugee camps, they offer cheap accommodation for foreigners and camp volunteers.

Nice rooms, clean and around 15 min from Bethlehem. You also can tour the camp with a great guide.

Abu Jubran Lutheran Guest House, Beside Christmas Lutheran Church and inside Dar Annadwa, Paul VI St.. The Abu Jubran Guest House is an elegant accommodation solution for conferences hosted at our Ad-Dar Cultural and Conference Center.

13 twin/double rooms with en suite bathrooms, Heat and air conditioning, and TV and broadband Internet connection.

The Alternative Tourist Group. Arranges Bed & Breakfast with local families, a perfect introduction to Palestinian hospitality. Privacy is guaranteed with a separate entry and bathroom for guests.

Beit Al Liqa. This is a Christian Community centre located in Beit Jala. It offers accommodation to tourists in its guesthouse

Bethlehem Hotel, near Manger St roundabout at the top of the hill near the border checkpoint. Comfortable with AC, great views in some rooms and big buffet breakfast. ₪200 single room.

Bethlehem Star Hotel, The Star Hotel enjoys a unique Location in Bethlehem apart from being the highest point in Bethlehem, yet it is in the centre near to the shopping Area offering an ideal choice for pilgrims and Tourists alike.

The Church of Nativity is six minutes walk through the old bazaars.

Bunksurfing Hostel, Bethlehem- AlDawha alhurreya Str., checkin: Flexible; checkout: Flexible. A small Palestinian run hostel in Bethlehem.

Very helpful, knowledgeable and friendly owner. Wifi. Low prices and good location. Kitchen available with included tea and coffee all day, a refrigerator & small stove.

Free maps of nearby cities and travel books available. A free walking tour is operated by the hostel owner.

He is also able to set up an excellent walking tour in a nearby city with a professional guide. Owner can explain local shared taxi routes, which is very helpful.

He responds very quickly to email reservation requests.

Dar Sitti Aziza, Anatra Street Beth Lehem, First Heritage Hotel in Palestine.

Its unique structure and convenient location, near the Nativity Church, in the heart of Bethlehem, allows for an extraordinarily relaxing and historic experience.

Everest Hotel, Beit Jala. The hotel is located on the top of the mountain of Beit Jala, overlooking the city of Bethlehem with its holy sites and with an excellent view over surrounding hills.

Grand Hotel, the bus will drop you off on a hill. If you hike up and keep going straight, the hotel will be on your left.

It's got what's probably an upscale Mexican restaurant on top, called Mariachi, but is also situated above a falafel stand.

The Holy Land Trust, 529 Manger Street Beside Reem al Bawadi restaurant. cheap homestays, both short term and long term, with Palestinian families

House Of Peace, next to Malhamet inyaz, near manger square. Price starting from around ₪49.99 a night for mixed dorms and 70 shekels for a private.

Grand Hotel Bethlehem. Grand Hotel Bethlehem is situated in the heart of Bethlehem, which is synonymous with tradition, style and good taste.

It is only a few minutes stroll to the Nativity Church and the shopping area.

Jacir Palace (InterContinental), Jerusalem-Hebron Road. This hotel is the only 5-star hotel in Bethlehem. It is considered the most elite hotels in Bethlehem.

Foreign diplomats often stay at this hotel because of its prestigious image.

Mount David Hotel. Bethlehem's newest hotel. Located in the Heart of the City within walking distance to the Nativity Church and many of the major attractions, such as the Old City of Bethlehem, King David's wells, just to name a few.

Take in the sites of the city, have dinner at one of the numerous Middle Eastern restaurants, anything from fast food to fine dining. Try a Shawerma or a Falafel sandwich and take a taste of the Middle East.

Nativity Hotel. Located in a very quiet area on the edge of the Holy City of Bethlehem, 10 minutes drive from the Church of Nativity and within a walking distance to the business center of Bethlehem. single: $40/night double: $70/night.

Olive Tree Tourist Village, Beit Jala, Bethlehem, The Olive Tree Hotel was built in 2009 and consists of 26 en-suite rooms, including double rooms, triple rooms and suites.

All rooms are fully equipped with flat screen televisions, air conditioning and fridges. The resort also offers a nice garden area, a swimming pool with a water park, a disco and a large car park.

Paradise Hotel, beside the Bethlehem Checkpoint. Located at the entrance of Bethlehem, one km from the Church of Nativity and only a few kms form the heart of the holy Old City of Jerusalem.

Saint Elias Guesthouse, (Beit Sahour). Great traditional food, and beautiful views! $20 per person.

Shepherd Hotel, On one of the west hills of Bethlehem, very near to the main road of Jerusalem-Hebron, surrounded by a multiple of Christian churches, historical convents and educational institutions.

It's probably not a good idea to let on about any pro-Israeli views you might have, since a large number of residents are from families made refugees from 1948.

During the Second Intifada there was also a siege centred on the Church of the Nativity, so there are fresh memories here.

Having said that, the economy depends heavily on tourists so the authorities have spent a lot of effort on keeping tourists safe and incidents are very rare.

The taxi drivers are rather insistent but not aggressive, if you're not used to it, the sight of them shouting at each other over who gets to hassle you can be alarming, but stay polite and just walk on unless you want a taxi of course.

Note that some maps of the streets are pretty bad, and even if they're accurate a lot of street names aren't consistent,seems to be common in Arab countries who tend to navigate by landmarks instead.

Most locals and even taxi drivers will happily give you directions without expecting anything in return.

OpenStreetMap had some good detail as well, and can usually be downloaded offline as Israeli telephone networks can be patchy in the Palestinian Territories.

Bethlehem is a good base for visits to nearby Herodion or Herodium, a fortress built by Herod the Great and located some 6 km to the south-east of the town.

Herodion can be reached by taxi from Bethlehem costing about ₪150-200 for a round trip. The Herodion is administered by the Israel Nature & National Parks Protection Authority.

To get back to Jerusalem, take Bus 21 or 231 from the same place it drops you off on the way in Hebron Rd., north of the Children Street intersection, west side of the street.

You will need your passport to get back into Israel. Your bus may be boarded by armed Israeli guards at the checkpoint, who will check your passport.

They may pull the Palestinian passengers off for more thorough questioning.

Bethlehem's bus station is also a great starting point to get to other cities in the Palestinian territories.

Located at the bottom floor of the bus station are numerous "Serveeces" or Palestinian Sheruts that drive to cities such as Hebron , Ramallah and Jericho.

Tourism Observer

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