No historian would argue with anything our cabdriver said. According to all historical accounts, Jesus was born in one place and he unquestionably died in another. The cabby put it this way, "Jesus is born in Bethlehem. Bethlehem is about his birth which is about life. Jerusalem is about his death. But still, his birth hides behind a wall, with us, in Palestine."
Of course, when he referred to the wall, he meant the wall that the Israeli government built; the wall that incarcerates the Palestinian territory.
If you ventured to Jerusalem today, as our secretary of state is doing right now, you could see the hole in the rock where most Christians believe the base of the cross was placed when Jesus was crucified. In fact they're so sure that about 16 centuries ago they built a church around it.
But, as the cabby mentioned, if these same folks want to visit the cave where they believe Jesus laid in a manger, and over which another church was built, you must pass through a fortress that imprisons and impoverishes Palestinian territory.
The wall is virtually impossible to imagine if you haven't seen it. It's more than a colossal wall, it's actually the world's largest cage because the Palestinians locked inside, with very rare exception, can never come out.
According to Michael Kohn, an author who writes about international travel, 60 percent of the shops in Bethlehem have closed in the past five years. One shopkeeper told us that the Jews had "punished" them because "they are afraid of the Muslims." He added that 75 percent of the people in his town are Christians but the outside world would never know that because he believes Israel would rather fuel the western world's fears by painting all Palestinians as Muslims terrorists. He added that the Muslims that shared his confinement did not frighten him at all.
The shopkeeper also believed that the world would never condemn Israel for their spiteful wall if Israel could make everyone afraid of Palestine.
U.S. Census Bureau statistics show that Israel is and was a safer place than the U.S. even before they built their wall. In fact, the percentage of Americans murdered is considerably higher than the percentage of Israelis killed in pre-wall Israel. And the succession of campus slayings here sadly proves that Israel is not the only home to random senseless butchery. Yet no one has suggested walling our college campuses.
Sadly the fear mongering has worked. Thousands of people wander through what is called Old Jerusalem every day. But we -- my son, John, his friend Peter and I -- were among the handful of people this week that entered the barbed wire barricades, past the machine guns and guard towers and through the checkpoints, to Palestinian territory.
Tour buses carrying religious pilgrims still journey to their holy places, but they briefly stop at these destinations, abandoning the local economy. Fear has all but eliminated foot traffic.
There's a hill on the other side of the fence from Jerusalem. About a third of the world's people believe that angels appeared to some shepherds there and told them to follow a star. We climbed that hill and looked around. I didn't see any star or any shepherds. What I did see was the incredibly beautiful Israeli countryside cruelly cut in two by that wall.
While the boys and I stood there marveling at the barrier stretching across the landscape our cabdriver spoke, startling us. We hadn't realized that he had climbed the hill, too. But why wouldn't he? He had nothing better to do; he wasn't expecting many more customers that day. He said, "There is Israel," pointing to the hills on the other side of the fence, "and here is Palestine. But really, it is all Palestine."
Few places on Earth rival the Middle East's rich history. From the time of King David the area has left written testimony to human greatness as well as our bizarre penchant for doing the wrong thing.
Using fear as an excuse to imprison an entire community is one of those great mistakes.
This week, while President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are in Israel, contact the White House. It's time to free the Palestinian territory.