My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Pilgrimage on our bus called Hope - Jericho, monasteries and baptismal vows

We have had three action packed days around Jerusalem and are excited about heading for the Sea of Galilee and following in the footsteps of Jesus on his lakeside ministry. Our bus is the first to set off, and early. We have another busy day ahead.

We leave Jerusalem in a north easterly direction into the Judean Desert and towards Jericho and the River Jordan marking the eastern boundary of the occupied West Bank. Our first stop is in the desert and we get out of the bus for a steep walk up hill towards a cross on the summit. At first glance, the desert looks totally barren and unable to sustain any kind of life. But that is an illusion. The curiosity of the dormant botanist in me is aroused as I spot a tiny but brilliantly colored flower among the stones and fissured rocks. Soon I see another, and another, and before long I have spotted and photographed something like 15 different species, of flowering plant for later identification. And the cross? I have absolutely no idea what this commemorates. Perhaps someone could let me know?

St George of Koziba monastery
The purpose of our stop was not for me to go on a plant foray though. From the top of the hill we look far across to the other side of the valley and there clinging it seems to the sheer rock face we see a monastery. It is incredibly well camouflaged, built as it is from the rocks which surround it. This is the monastery of St George of Koziba, renowned for its hospitality which has been extended to women since the sixth century. The monastery dates from about 480 AD when it was developed by one John of Thebes out of a small oratory built by five hermit monks. There were numerous cave dwelling hermits who came there for divine liturgy on Saturdays and Sundays but it was the monk George of Koziba, originally from Cyprus, who developed the monastery in the second half of the sixth century, hence its name. Destroyed by the Persians in 614, it was restored in 1179 but fell into disuse again. The monastery we now see was reconstructed in the late nineteenth century and completed in 1901. Sadly we only viewed this place from across the valley. It is clearly of interest to visit. The prophet Elijah stayed here on his way to Sinai, and here St Joachim wept when he realized his wife Anne was unable to conceive, and he heard from an angel that they would bear a child, the future Virgin Mary.

But we must hurry on. We have a rendezvous to keep at the River Jordan, where we are to celebrate the Eucharist with the other groups and renew our baptismal vows…
We have a pre-booked slot at the original baptismal site of Kasr al- Yahud on the banks of the River Jordan just north of where it flows into the Dead Sea. There are four other sites, mostly in forbidden military zones. The other main one used by pilgrims is the Yardenit Baptismal site at the southern most end of the Sea of Galilee.
Baptisms in the river Jordan, Jordan side
the River Jordan
It is sobering to see the fence to our right as we make our way in the coach to the baptismal site adorned at frequent intervals with bright yellow warning signs about land mines in the area. And we also notice plenty of soldiers around, presumably for our protection.

In spite of the almost inevitable tourist razzmatazz at the main building, at least there are clean loos and refreshments and the opportunity to hire a white one-size robe to do the ceremony properly and go for total immersion for those who wish to. I'm sorry now that I didn't do this. Only two from our party did! Any way the current was extremely strong, and weak swimmer as I am, it was probably wise that I simply paddled.
No one knows where in the River Jordan Jesus was actually baptized by John. But in the end that doesn't really matter. The significance of the Eucharist ceremony and the formal renewal of our baptismal vows is still very meaningful and indeed moving.
On the opposite bank of the river, on the Jordan side, there are renewals taking place where pretty much everyone is going for total immersion. We noticed that they clearly appreciated our extremely gutsy rendering of our hymns.

A  rough Sea of Galilee
Our next stop is again to view a monastery from afar across a valley. This time it is the monastery on the Mt of Temptation, and it really does cling perilously, it seems, to the vertical rock face. We really have no idea where Jesus was tempted by the devil, but this situation seems as good a place as any to reflect on the story. The legend dates back to the early twelfth century, that here at the summit Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would only worship him. (Matt. 4: 1-11).
Monastery of Temptation

We have stopped by the cable car station, from where little gondolas take you up to a restaurant and from thence to the monastery. But we did not do this. Instead we forgot for a short while that we were pilgrims not tourists, as from the wayside stall we bought jewellry, refreshed ourselves with freshly pressed orange and pomegranate juice, and were hugely entertained by our bishop taking a camel ride!
Tired after a long day, we make our way to Tiberias for our stay on the shores of the Sea of Galilee...

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

A Bus called Hope explores Old Jerusalem - on foot!

I feel we have been rushed through the Dormition Abbey. With its wonderful mosaics and reclining Virgin Mary, (see previous post and link to photos) it is for me a very beautiful place where I long to linger and reflect. But we have to move on yet again, there being so many places to visit in Old Jerusalem.
praying at the Tomb of David
Still on Mount Zion, we find ourselves in the Upper Room, commemorating the place where Jesus had his Last Supper with his disciples. Actually this room we are in was built more than a thousand years after the event it recalls, but we are told that the room actually used by Jesus would have been similar and tradition says that this would have been on Mount Zion. The room has fine carved capitals on its central pillars, with arches of a later date, and signifying the direction of Mecca there is a mihrab, added to the room when the Christians were evicted from the building by the Turks in 1524 and the room was adapted for use as a mosque. It continued thus until 1947 when the Israelis took over the complex and it was opened for all to visit.
Whilst in this room we recall two other events which tradition tells us took place on Mount Zion: the Resurrection visit by Jesus on Easter evening, to his frightened disciples, locked in an upper room for fear of the Jews, and the visitation of the Holy Spirit remembered by us at Pentecost.
Ladies side of the Western Wall
Directly below the Upper Room is the Tomb of David, a significant place of pilgrimage for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. Here for the first time on this pilgrimage, the ladies and the gents among us have to separate - the gents to the left, ladies to the right. We all have to cover our heads before entering, even our men folk, for whom prayer caps (Kippahs) are provided. In front of us on entering is the right hand side of this huge tomb, covered in velvet cloth with Torah scroll boxes on top. There is a lady kneeling at the foot of the altar, wailing softly and nodding her head vigorously over her Torah. The whole experience is a little incongruous, separated as we are by a flimsy screen from the men of our party, and disturbed by (male) workmen who are doing something to the fabric of the building behind the altar. Our guide even hands them some of their tools across the railings separating us from the altar and the wailing lady! It is quite hard to find much spirituality and awe in here with so many people around.
The Western Wall
There is some controversy as to the validity of the tomb. For the Jews this is a Holy Place second only in importance to that of the Western Wall in the Temple area which we are to go to next. In the New Testament Bethlehem is described as the "City of David", whilst the Old Testament says that David was buried in the city of David, now known as Mount Ophel, directly south of the Temple platform in Jerusalem. Archaeologists have failed to find a royal necropolis in either location.
At the Western Wall
Our final visit of the day is to the Western Wall and this is really some experience. Again we are separated by gender - ladies to the right, men to the left, with a see through fence between the two areas. This is the focal point of Jewish religious life and they pray here five times a day if they can. I was struck by the devotions of the young Jewish ladies, mildly amused by the sight of them at the Wall itself, some talking on their mobile phones! This whole area is controlled by the Muslims and any groups prayers, hymns or readings are forbidden so we are left to wonder around on our own and make whatever we want to of this area.
The Damascus Gate
We finally regroup and make our way back to the Damascus gate and our hotel through the crowded narrow streets of the Old Town. The whole place has come alive in the late afternoon. When we passed through here early this morning all the shops were shuttered up, quite unlike the vibrant scene which now greets us, with all the shops open, their various wares spilling out on the pavement, and the locals jostling each other to do their shopping. I clutch my bag tighter to me and we hurry by, anxious to get back to our hotel for some rest! It has been a day full of so many different experiences, at times colourful, spiritual, disturbing, worrying, and certainly both physically and emotionally exhausting. Tomorrow we leave Jerusalem on our way North, to follow Jesus' ministry around the shores of the Sea of Galilee…

shops and trading in Old Jerusalem

Saturday, 25 January 2014

When I needed a neighbor ... were you there?

I came upon a really good and thought provoking article today by Simon Brown, entitled:
Atheists: Separate Catholic Church's good works from religion, learn tolerance.
This was in the Pitt News, the daily newspaper of the University of Pittsburgh.

Brown was commenting on the new Pope's lifestyle choices and his calling to promote social justice that has earned him plenty of kudos from the religious and non-religious alike.

Brown writes: "We atheists, then, ought not become a missionary non-religion. We ought not resist the possibility that more will turn to the Catholic Mass — a trend deemed the “Pope Francis Effect” — when they do so out of a commendable concern for social justice. By accepting those actions of the church, we gain more credibility when we decry its contradictions, such as the forbiddance (sic) of the ordination of female priests."

This made me recall our own reflections on our Holy Land pilgrimage - about living out our faith in what we do - And it brought to my mind something else I experienced not long ago in my travels.

When I visit new places I love to nose around the local church to admire the architecture perhaps, or the location, or to simply see in my inquisitive way what they are up to as a congregation so that I may compare notes with our own thriving church! So when I visited this ancient sea port, steeped in history, I made straight for its parish church. Now I feel passionately about churches being open during the day, all day every day, for people to freely enter. A locked church is a dead church, I say. An open church is alive and thrives, and is better placed to fulfill its missions. An open church invites people to enter, to pray, to cry, to be quiet and still, to find help in all sorts of different ways. And in this day and age it is not difficult to install CCTV cameras and to put away the most valuable and portable artifacts, or wire them up to a security system of some sort.
And what is more important to our Christian lives - an accessible church or a "valuable" item. 
Imagine therefore my first shock - that in this busy and central place the church was locked and I had to follow the instructions on the door to collect the key. My next shock was how frightened the key holder seemed, as I was visibly vetted up and down for approval before allowing me to enter the portal. She told me why. Apparently there are "characters" around, there is a social problem in the vicinity with drugs and drink and homelessness, congregation have felt threatened, and the police have advised this somewhat draconian procedure which was my experience of gaining entry. And this poor lady seemed to work in a constant state of fear.

And it is certainly true that this "problem" as she called it, exists nearby - I saw it for myself - and felt slightly uncomfortable myself, yes, but also deeply sad. And then I thought - wait a minute! Who is this church for? Is it just for the comfortable and safe and aging weekly congregation to offer their own worship? Or is it to follow the teachings of Jesus and offer help and support for those most in need in our society, the marginalized, the deprived, the sick? Because alcoholics and drug abusers are sick.

There was a food bank collection point at the back of the church. That's a start, certainly. But the whole episode made me ponder a little. Yes we're happy to help a little, but is this help to be offered only on our own sanitized terms? Is that a Christian response? Jesus never said our calling to follow him was going to be easy!

As the hymn goes: When I needed a neighbour were you there, were you there...?

Friday, 24 January 2014

Ecumenism in Jerusalem

walking through Old Jerusalem
Just down the road from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre we find the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, and it is here that we all meet up again to celebrate Eucharist as a whole group. On the way out I pick up their leaflet, and learn that three different congregations worship here on a regular basis: The Arabic speaking congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL for short!), the German speaking congregation of the Evangelical church in Germany, (EKD), and the English speaking Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Sometimes even the Danish Lutherans use this church. As the leaflet goes on to explain, the Christian community in Jerusalem "has always been multi-ethnic, diverse and multi-lingual. Here you will find Greeks and Armenians, Syrians, Coptic Christians from Egypt, Ethiopians, Maronites with Lebanese background, Orthodox Russians, Palestinians, and Hebrew Christians praying side by side."
Here we have a fine lesson of working together in fellowship and partnership, and the church is very clearly a vital part of the ecumenical Christian tradition in the city, from which many of us could learn a thing or two! There is much more information about the church and its ministry, its educational programme, its projects, resources and partners, on its website where there is also plenty of information about the real plight of the Palestinian Christians, which we really cannot discover in such a short pilgrimage visit.
Dormition Abbey - mosaic of Virgin and Child 
It is certainly now time for lunch. Our mornings start early, in an attempt to steal a march on the other coach parties! Without any break, the mornings seem long and many of us are noticeably wilting every day by lunchtime.
Today we walk into the Armenian quarter for our restaurant. As usual the appetisers are fantastic, but the veggie options for main course tend to be unreliable. Today the veggie option is dire - a huge plate of pasta with a very tasteless tomato sauce. I cannot eat it, and even my usually hungry companions are not tempted to take it off me!
Dormition Abbey Basilica
Dormition Abbey Bell tower
Suitably fed and watered, we are off again, this time to Mount Zion and the Dormition Abbey (Dormitio Sanctae Mariae: the falling asleep of St Mary), where legend has it that the Virgin Mary spent her last days. However the House of Mary in Ephesus and the Tomb of St Mary in Gethsemane also make this claim. There is a life size statue of the reclining Mary downstairs in the crypt, made from cherry wood and ivory, marking the place where she is supposed to have died. Some were venerating this edifice, but I have to confess that I felt totally unmoved by it. What struck me was the beauty of the mosaics, on the floor and in the six side chapels, in the main body of the church.The circular floor mosaic represents the spreading of the Word, through space and time and is really very special.
Sadly we are hurried away all too soon as there is still plenty to see today…We are off to the Upper Room, The Tomb of David, and the Wailing Wall.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Our pilgrimage continues in Jerusalem

This is our third day of pilgrimage - a long day spent on foot in the old city of Jerusalem itself.
On our way to the Via Dolorosa
We begin the day with a visit to the Church of St Anne, built by the Crusaders in the Twelfth century, and where we say Morning Prayer together. The church stands, austere and fortress like, beside some excavated remains of the pool of Bethesda, where it is said that Jesus healed the paralytic. The water there is believed to have some therapeutic qualities. The archaeological digging has also exposed some remains of a very large fifth century Byzantine church, which was destroyed by the Persians in AD 614. One detail really fascinated me, interested as I am in the concept of healing. This Byzantine church was built over a pagan temple to the Greek god of healing, Asklepios.
interior dome in Church of the Holy Sepulchre
We now divide up into small groups of 20-25 people to follow the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrows or the Way of the Cross, representing at the 14 Stations the route Jesus took to Calvary. All of us have a chance to carry a wooden cross, fairly large and heavy, between two of the stations, and at each station we have a reading and prayers not unlike the liturgies many of us follow in Holy Week in our own churches. I chose to carry the cross for one stage of the journey and found this to be a very moving experience. Many indeed were moved to tears this morning.
The journey along the Via Dolorosa is not without incident! At one stage a man walks along side us protesting loudly - we have no idea of course what he is saying - we can only guess. And it is only when I look at some of the photos later that I see there are armed soldiers standing nearby sometimes. I never noticed them at the time.

The most amusing incident during the journey with the cross is provided by a very well dressed and groomed tourist caught up in our procession. "Oh my God, what's happening," she shrieks to her companion. "Oh no we must get out of here quickly". And she scuttles into a nearby shop, her face a picture of disgust and horror! I'm sorry we upset you, Madam!
The last five Stations are on the roof above the church of the Holy Sepulchre and it is also quite moving to hear the singing of the groups ahead of us and behind us up here. This Church is at the very heart of our Christian faith, where we not only find the traditional rock of Calvary but also the site of Jesus' Tomb. There is a compulsion for all of us to touch the tomb, but of course He is not there!  
the Rock of Calvary
As with Manger Square and the Grotto of the Nativity it is all too easy to be overwhelmed not only with the emotional significance of these sites, but also in a different way by the hordes of photo snapping tourists. The last time I felt a Holy Place was destroyed by tourist crowds was in the beautiful Cathedral in Palma, Mallorca, so spoilt by the throngs of people treating it simply as a museum, nothing more.
No wonder that the best advice is to sneak out early in the morning to visit these places before the coaches arrive!

Incidentally, for those of us brought up on that lovely hymn -"there is a green hill far away, without a city wall" - there is much evidence to suggest that this site was indeed outside the walls of the city at the time of the crucifixion.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Living out our faith

funky painted trees in playground
at Jeel al Jamal
While on the Hope bus we were visiting the Jeel Al Amal orphanage school and kindergarten in Bethlehem the other buses on our pilgrimage went elsewhere. The Love bus visited  The Jerusalem Princess Basma Center for Disabled Children while the Faith bus went to the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation
All three of these organisations are doing wonderful work with children who have many different special needs in this torn and wounded part of the world, and we are reminded in our evening reflections at the end of the day that we live out our faith practically in projects such as these.
We are also called to reflect that evening on why projects such as these seem so often to be led by strong women. I think the founder's daughter at the Jeel Al Amal school had an answer. The school was born, she told us, "out of the womb of suffering."
Tomorrow we will abandon our buses and the day will be all on foot, in the old city of Jerusalem. It promises to be a very full day.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Kairos: Time for Action, Call to Action

Driving this afternoon over to my garage to have my car serviced, there is a queue on the other side of the road that must be over a mile long. And it is going nowhere, at least for the time being. The cause of the hold up: just one car broken down in the middle of the road at the traffic lights. Several drivers are already getting impatient and turning around to go back or find an alternative route. One driver negotiating this impatient and dangerous move nearly hit me. No one seems to be doing anything about the real problem – a car which could be simply pushed to the side of the road if there were sufficient man power and will power; if people stopped thinking just about themselves and looked for a solution for all.
Many of us after a long and tiring day of work have the frustration of sitting in traffic queues, or waiting for trains and buses, sometimes for hours when things go wrong, just to get home. Imagine, though, if the queuing and long waits are part of an oppressive controlling regime, every single day, and if they are a reflection of a severely limited freedom, and if there simply is no other route to take? Because that is the reality every day for the many weary workers waiting to return home to Bethlehem through the Birqat es sultan gate in the Separation Wall after a long day’s work in Jerusalem on the other side of the divide. Sometimes in the morning they cannot get to work on time, even get to work at all, because of the same humiliating system. We saw this separation wall several times on our travels through Jerusalem and it is a striking and potent symbol of the prolonged occupation of the West Bank and the suffering of so many of these beleaguered citizens. Sometimes eight metres high concrete, heavily covered in graffiti, sometimes nasty touch sensitive wire topped with razor wire, it is there for “security” or so Israel says.
After decades of suffering Israeli occupation, in 2009 Palestine Christians published the Kairos Palestine document: A Moment of Truth- a word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian Suffering, an appeal for Christians everywhere to sit up, take notice and actually do something.
The Peace Pole in Jerusalem
In 2012 a group of over 60 Christians gathered on the Hebridean Isle of Iona to consider their response to this appeal for help. The document that was finally produced out of this gathering, Time for Action, is a call to the Churches of Britain to respond faithfully and courageously to the situation in Israel and Palestine.
In June 2011 a group of U.S. clergy, theologians and laypersons inaugurated a similar movement for American Christians. Their document is Call to Action .

I have been and seen for myself the injustices and humiliations that Palestinians face daily and I urge my readers to take a look at these projects and to do something! The booklets are different, but the messages broadly similar: Go and see for yourself if you possibly can just what is happening in the Holy Land, follow up with political action, challenge the theology and misuse of the Bible behind these injustices, and pray. The American booklet includes a very useful study guide as well.
Why Kairos? “Kairos” is Greek for “favorable time,” “crisis,” “decisive epoch.” It demands urgent response, a change of mind and direction. Jesus invoked this urgency in his mission in Galilee when he says “The time has come.” Other Kairos moments were when the injustices of Apartheid and slavery were tackled and overcome. A more recent Kairos moment came with the launch of A Common Word, about which I have written in a previous post.

Pilgrims to the Holy Land take with them the gifts of joy, trade, prayer and hope. 

looking across from the Shepherds' fields to Israeli occupation
settlements beyond the fence
That is just a beginning. They also take with them the opportunity to be educated about what is going on over there. I believe that education is the key to many, if not most, of the problems of this damaged and wounded world.

As I write this I notice coincidentally in the media that Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister, seems to be going about face on his previous attitude, and now says that it is time to do a deal. He is still unrepentant, however, about the settlements still being built and expanded in the occupied West Bank, only too visible to us on our visit, and illegal under international law.
(UK reporting in the Telegraph is here).

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Pilgrimage on a Bus called Hope to the Holy Land contd.

We have spent an emotionally charged morning with the orphans and other needy children at Jeel al- Amal (Generation of Hope) School and Boys Home in the village of Bethany, followed by a Eucharist celebrated with all the pilgrims from our three buses, the buses called Faith, Hope and Love (see previous post). We are therefore spiritually nourished but ready for some refreshment to meet our physical needs.

the Door of Humility, main entrance to the
Church of the Nativity
This gives us our first experience of a “coach party” restaurant on our pilgrimage. It sounds awful, doesn’t it, and I have to confess that I have always somewhat looked down my nose at such establishments, especially if I am alone or with only a few other friends in search of a quiet meal. But the Shepherds Tent Restaurant seems to cope admirably with nearly 150 pilgrims descending on it in one swoop (although it has to be said that the toilets don’t cope quite so well!). There are plenty of large low tables each surrounded by comfortable cushion strewn settee type seating and each accommodating around 8 – 10 people. The tables are groaning with a large number of dishes bearing many different types of salad and other appetising looking nibbles. We all tuck in with gusto, leaving absolutely nothing. So it is with some horror that we all slowly come to realise that this is only intended as the appetizer, as the main meal dishes comes along! Actually the meat looks dubious even for the carnivores in the party, and the veggie option is just that – a huge plate of grossly over-boiled carrots, beans and cauliflowers, and actually quite disgusting! We are glad we have tucked in to the first course. Perhaps the kitchens have not coped quite so well with our enormous party as we first thought.

I buy a bottle of water at the restaurant, tendering 20 Israeli New Shekels (ILS) and am given a 1 Euro coin by way of change. I think I have been robbed! A few minutes later I pick up a £1 coin outside on the path, so perhaps that is some recompense. I am still at a loss to know whether a fair price has been paid for the water: all very confusing!

This afternoon we are due to go to Manger Square and the oldest complete Christian church in the world, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, dating from the latter part of the sixth century. But first our bus called Hope drops us off at a Co-operative shop selling loads of different souvenirs, some rather lovely, some quite awful, and some jewellery including a necklace which the very persuasive sales lady tries to sell me for £800!! She must be joking but she is not. I am always pleased to support local traders and artisans wherever I visit, but not spending that kind of money!

Constantine's 4th century mosaic floor rediscovered in 1934
twelve point silver star, traditional site of the birthplace
of Jesus Christ
We are on our Bus called Hope, on this the second afternoon of our pilgrimage to the Holy Land from Southwark Diocese. On our way to Manger Square we see the Separation Wall, covered in graffiti. The coach park in Bethlehem on arrival is a huge underground car park and quite soulless, not the introduction I fondly imagined to this holiest and most emotive of shrines for the Christian pilgrim. But I have to cast this feeling aside and make the most of the surroundings to prepare me for what should be a special and meaningful visit. I must not let the setting spoil the experience. The church is built over a cave where by a long standing and unchallenged tradition Jesus was actually born. There is plenty of historical evidence for this being the birthplace, squashing totally those who would want everyone to believe that the whole Christmas story is only a fairy tale. The present structure dates mainly from the time of the Emperor Justinian with parts still preserved from the Basilica erected by the Emperor Constantine in AD 315. Why has this been preserved so well? Legend has it that when the Persians destroyed all the Christian buildings of the Holy Land in the seventh century, they noticed that on the West fa├žade of the building there were carvings of the Magi, their own ancestors. So it was for reasons of respect and reverence that they spared this Basilica!

Interior of the Church of the Nativity
Actually there is plenty of repair work now needed because of damaging water leaks and Italian craftsmen have recently won the tender invited by the Palestinian Authorities to repair this 4th century church and important Unesco heritage site.
The church is owned jointly by the Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Catholic Churches, and there have been sad and well publicised clashes between them, over who cleans which parts of the church!

We have to queue for quite a while to see the Cave of the Nativity, and the visit is in danger of being spoilt by the touristy feel of the place and the hordes of obsessive photographers. Here is one place where I would rather take home memories and experiences than photos. To get back to our hotel for our evening meal we have to go thorough the one and only checkpoint separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem, at the gate known as Birqat es sultan, and we see a long queue of weary workers waiting to return home to Bethlehem after a long day’s work on the other side…