[This is Part 2 of my day trip to Bethlehem, in the West Bank. If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, you can find it here.]
Finally we decided to cave to the taxi drivers who kept approaching us in Manger Square. “Where you go? Go see Banksy graffiti, see wall.” Sure, okay, we’ll go see the Banksy wall.
It turned out to be the best decision we’d made that day. After feebly trying to haggle with one of the drivers over his 50 shekel asking price, and mostly failing, we hopped in a cab for the short drive out to what the Israeli government calls a “security fence”, but what is in fact a 30-foot-high concrete prison wall.
Though Banksy’s work on it is arguably the most well-known, the whole Palestinian side is covered with graffiti and scrawled slogans.
The section of wall near Bethlehem is also home to the “Wall Museum”, a series of mounted posters telling stories that Palestinian Women have chosen to share with visitors, many of them detailing violent encounters with IDF soldiers.
A guy around my age drove up to me while I was walking along the long stretch of wall. He chatted with me a moment (turns out he was a cousin or nephew of our driver), then held up a huge grocery bag full of green-capped aerosol cans. He told me he was meeting some friends later to paint the wall and we should come. Tempting as that offer was, the three of us decided we should really head back to Jerusalem, since there seemed to be nothing else open in Bethlehem to occupy us for several hours.
On the way back through the checkpoint the bus stopped. About half of the passengers got off (I’m guessing Palestinian citizens) and two armed IDF guards boarded. Oh shit, document check. I was okay because I had my passport, but Esmee and Nina started muttering to each other in Dutch and I could tell they were trying very hard not to freak out. I tried to assure them that as tourists we weren’t a security concern, and worst case scenario I could go back to Jerusalem and retrieve their passports, but it was still a pretty tense few minutes.
The guards slowly made their way to the back of the bus, checking each passenger’s identification. When the first one reached us, Nina quickly apologized and explained that they were from the Netherlands but had left their passports at the hostel. The guard interrupted her: “You are tourists?” “Yes,” we all replied. I had my passport in hand, ready to show him, but he didn’t even ask to see it. “Welcome!” he said with a huge grin, then turned and made his way back down the aisle.