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Church of the Nativity.(Photo by: Laura Nichols)
24 Hours in Bethlehem
Visit Bethlehem and sample the best of the biblical city over the course of one day.
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The separation barrier, the contested concrete wall dividing Israel and the West Bank, is a short walk from the Jacir Palace and is as much a border marker as a canvas for political art. One of the walls most famous visiting artists was anonymous British guerilla stencil-artist, Banksy. Visiting the West Bank in 2005, Banksy created nine murals based on some of his most popular and notable sketches. Arrows and advertising on the wall point to the "Banksy giftshop" where prints can be purchased and a registered tour guide also offers up his service to point out some of the famed murals. On the Bethlehem side of the wall it is hard to tell if any original Banksy's remain but other contributions make the wall an impressive and moving site. Additionally, an initiative to publish first hand stories by Palestinian women hang on the northern side of the wall. According to one of the posters, the stories were chosen to reflect suffering, oppression, inner strength and steadfastness. An anecdote posted by Banksy on his website said that a Palestinian man approached him and told him his art made the wall look beautiful. When Banksy thanked the man he replied, "We don't want it to be beautiful, we hate this wall. Go home."


Cafes and restaurants are plentiful along main boulevards in Bethlehem but street food and small snacks allow for eating and sight seeing in a short time span. For coffee on the go, the Stars and Bucks café looks eerily similar to another popular North American coffee chain. Ice cream is in the display case and all major styles of caffeinated drinks are made and travel ready. Even a simple cup of black coffee is dressed up with whole coffee beans dropped in. It's worth it to patronize this coffee spot if only to acknowledge Palestinian entrepreneurship. The familiar green and white logo is hard to miss on the road up to Manger Square.

While site seeing in the bazaar of the old city, meals can be grabbed on the go from fruit and vegetables stand, fresh pita and falafel or even a personal pizza. Across from the Syrian Orthodox Church in the Old City a stand alone oven bakes fresh pizza for NIS 10. Without any instruction the pizza comes with a heap of green and black olives or can be made margarita style if specified. Tea is hocked through the streets and its fun to sit and enjoy while people watching.

If you're more in the mood for something sweet, the small café of Oriental & Sweets DA'NA serves up quality pastries, coffee and tea in unpretentious settings. The café capitalizes on its prime location just steps away from Manger Square but it's a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. Trays line the counter with any and all sugar soaked philo dough pastries. The most important pastry to order is Kanafeh. The traditional Palestinian cheese pastry originated in the city of Nablus and is traditional Middle Eastern white brine cheese sandwiched between layers of philo dough and soaked in sugary syrup. A traditional cup of Arabic coffee with cardamom completes the Levant dish.

Whether a short, tourist stay or religious pilgrimage, Bethlehem is an important city both historically and in present day. It is a worthwhile visit at any time of year.

Laura Nichols is contributing writer to
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