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Christmas Eve. Today is 12/24/09 in Jerusalem & Bethlehem

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I edit photos from yesterday. Almost half way through this time here and I have edited down my photos to 2,170. All first edits and preliminary development of the images are being done here to lessen the time it takes for the print selection process, and the Journal images… ultimately I will need to get 80 choice selections for my Sponsors to choose from for their print/s.

Internet here at Bridgettine Sisters is still down, so I cannot update the Logs or email anyone. I feel bad about that and hope no one is worried that something has happened to me.

Pack up the gear and head to the bus to Bethlehem.  It is 2pm.

The bus ride takes a while and the second I step out I am being hit up by a taxi offer to the Church of the Nativity – 50 Shekels – I’ll walk – the guy follows me up the hill, 40 Shekels – I’ll walk thank you – it is 7 kilometers 40 shekels its a deal… I tell him I’ll walk and give him that look. He backs off. I have come to not trust the taxi drivers around here. I make it to the square before the Church of the Nativity – it was only a mile and a half at best.

Bethlehem is wild – I mean – like the wild west – unruly, poor, broken up, despairaged (I made that word up). And it is crowded!

There is a concert stage set up and the band is testing. Television cameras are everywhere, this is a media event. It isn’t feeling too holy and I wouldn’t know it was Christmas if not for the Santas all over the place.

There is a large line ot enter the Church of the Nativity so I decide to forgo it for now.

I am a bit nervous about it, but eventually take out the cameras and start taking photos.

Some time goes buy, I have 8 hours to kill before Midnight Mass. I get the notion to go to the church, and the line is reduced to about 15 people. Enterring through the Door of Humility, I start to take some photos. A HUGE line  funnels into the doorway that goes down to the alleged birthplace of Jesus and manger area. I keep taking photos and eventually find my self in the front of the funnel and down the stairs into the nativity area. I am there for a few minutes when security starts to usher people out – the church is closing. Minutes before it was swarmed with people, and now I am fortunate to get a shot with no one in front of the “birthplace of Christ” Amazing.

Some photos of people within the church:

I make my way out to notice there is a militia standing guard outside. The Palestinian President is coming for Mass at St. Cahtherine. I try to stay, but without a ticket, there is no entrance.

Not knowing what to expect, I hang around for a few hours photographing the concert and the people.

I receive a white medium stem rose. A peace gesture being handed out to everyone from the Palestinian People this Christmas Eve in Bethlehem.  I tuck it in my jacket.

I find a good spot behind the stage and take photos.

The boys are wild here – like back kicking donkeys – beat on one another, pound on a canine unit window inciting the dogs inside the black extended Defender to bark aggressively, two boys come up and ask me for my rose and I hand it over. One pulls the bud off the stem, and tells me I am a hero (whatever that means. I watch another kid pick on another and “hoks a lugi” on his jacket arm. I am told they are boys, like anywhere…

The concert is like anywhere – music is the bridge between people.

Security is extra heavy because of the president making an appearance. when he arrives there is a cavalcade of cars and agents running beside his car. All this for the Palestinian president – it must really be something for the US president.

Some girls with santa hats come and talk to me for a while since I took their photo (because it was a nice contrast of them in santa hats with PA security in the shadows). One’s name is Dr. Jumana (she is heart broken).

Eventually I wonder if there is going to be a mass or a projected Christmas religious kind of thing… I am told no. This is it – the concert. The mass in St Catherine is private and to ticket holders only. This is as good as it is going to get for my Christmas in the Holy Land!

I am disappointed. I was hoping to hear Christmas songs at least or a very liturgical and special celebration at most with choir and prayers… it was secular, here outside teh Church of the Nativity, in Bethlehem where “a Child was born’.

Here are some mementos detailing my Christmas Eve in Bethlehem:

I get a taxi to the checkpoint. We pass the wall the Israeli government had erected to keep the Palestinians out of Israel. Form this side with all the graffiti, I am reminded of the Berlin Wall.

At the checkpoint I walk a barbed wired gated ramp in an eerie midnight hour, alone, as if entering a prison. Finally through one check point with my drivers license for ID – no one told me to bring my passport. When I get to the Israeli side – it is not so easy – they want my passport.

One of the lads in a small group I found there speaks in Hebrew to the guard – another guard above me asks what the problem is – I say I only have my California Drivers License… he asks where I am from – I tell him California…they let me through.

I go with the group and we take a shuttle back to Damascus Gate. I walk to the Convent from there. It is almost 1am.

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