18) Church of the Nativity
Bethlehem is a small town located in the West Bank and it is fairly close to Jerusalem. It takes about 30 minutes to get there on a taxi, or you can take a bus, which will take a bit longer. While Bethlehem is located in the zone controlled by the Palestinian Authority, I personally found it to be a safe place to visit. In fact, after seeing many tourists there from all over the world, I realized that Bethlehem is a fairly popular place, especially for Christians. That’s because Bethlehem hosts the Church of the Nativity, which was built right over the cave where Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus. Because of this, it is considered to be another holy site for Christian pilgrims to visit, and it has been that way since 339 AD, when the building was first completed. The site of the Church of the Nativity was the first to be listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and it is currently administered jointly by Green Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Apostolic and Syriac Orthodox church authorities. When I visited Bethlehem, the church was going through massive restoration, so most of the building was blocked from access.
Still, it was a fascinating place to visit and photograph. As you walk towards the birthplace of Jesus, you will find some interesting corridors and courtyards to photograph:
Along with different altars and other decorations:
The actual spot that marks the birthplace of Jesus is decorated on the marble floor:
It is a tough spot to access and photograph due to huge lines of pilgrims that want to see, touch and kiss the marking on the floor. The spot is partially lit by candles and partially by lamps, making it even more difficult to take a picture of. I had to wait for a few minutes until I was able to get a clear shot and even then I was quickly escorted out by security, since they did not want anyone to be there for more than a few minutes.
Unfortunately, due to the above-mentioned restoration project and my limited time in Bethlehem, I had to leave and move on to other spots.
As I was leaving the area towards the market, I saw a group of Palestinians silently protesting in an area:
I am not sure what this was all about, but based on the images, I assumed that they were protesting for the release of their relatives from Israeli jails.
19) Bethlehem Market
Another great place to check out for photographic opportunity is the market located in central Bethlehem. It is a touristy place with plenty of great stores and restaurants and if you want to buy any gifts, this is the place to go, since prices are much lower compared to those in Jerusalem. You will find stores that sell all kinds of goodies. From hand-made carpets:
To traditional dresses for women:
As you walk by the stores, don’t forget about street photography opportunities:
In addition to clothing and other goods, you will also find a pretty large food market. At the end of it, there are a few butcher shops. This butcher did not mind me taking his picture:
The light is a bit rough here though, since the area is covered and lit by all kinds of indoor lights.
20) The Wall
I am sure you have heard about “the wall”, the barrier that separates Israel from the areas of West Bank it considers unsafe. Even before flying to Israel, I really wanted to see the wall for myself, because I have heard about it in the media and have seen pictures before. West Bank was an ideal spot to see the wall and the areas around Bethlehem especially are quite popular among tourists due to different writings and graffiti on them. I asked my taxi driver to take me to the wall and show me some areas, which he did:
I have to say, the wall looks nothing like I previously imagined – it is truly massive! I don’t know what it cost Israel to build such a wall, but after seeing it with my own eyes, I wondered what it would cost to build the Mexican wall, if Trump was to succeed in making it happen. These things are not just massive in size, but they are also buried deep into the ground to prevent anyone from being able to dig under. In high security zones, the wall is protected by additional barbwire, in addition to outposts and concrete blocks, as seen below:
This particular outpost clearly has seen some action in the past…
And in other areas, the wall is angled in such a way that it would make it impossible to attempt to climb it:
Due to a number of Jewish settlements in the area, the wall can cross multiple areas, looking like a maze:
And in some places, there are two layers of protection – one is barb-wired and the other is protected by concrete walls:
It just looks unreal… I have never seen anything like this before. In some places, it looks like there are layers and layers of walls that never end. I am not sure how Israel partitioned and designated its safe and unsafe zones, but it was extremely difficult for me to make any sense out of it. Most of it looked very random and unplanned to me.
There was also a stark contrast between buildings in many areas. Houses and apartment buildings constructed in Jewish settlements looked new and clean, while the Palestinian side looked aged and worn out. Within a few hundred meters from each other, the two looked like they belonged to two different parts of the world.
As the day was coming to an end, the Arab taxi driver invited me to his house in Bethlehem for some tea. I did not have anything planned for the rest of the day, so after we grabbed some food in a local restaurant, we headed off to his house. I thought it would be a good opportunity to take some pictures of his family, so I put in my request early on, to which he happily agreed to, especially because I promised to send him pictures after I got back home. The taxi driver turned out to be a very kind man. After I stepped into his house, he introduced me to his children, who were happy to welcome me to their living room, where they shared some refreshments and nuts for the guest. I sat with them for a little while and talked, explaining who I was and what I was doing in Israel. Since it was already getting late, I grabbed my camera and started working. First, I captured a few shots of the family indoors:
I was not very happy with the lack of light (the windows of his house were fairly small and I could only partially open them), so I pulled the kids outside to take their pictures. He has five sons and a daughter, so I knew it would take me a bit of time to take pictures of each one of them. I started out with his youngest son:
He was very camera shy, so making him pose in front of the camera was not easy. The little girl, however, was not a problem at all – she posed naturally and did a great job! I guess that’s what happens when a girl grows up with so many brothers:
The next in line was the second youngest son, who also had a hard time in front of the camera.
Thankfully, having shot many portraits in the past, I know how to act quickly in such situations. The key is to be in control and tell the subject exactly what they need to do. Asking them to act naturally never works, because the camera scares the heck out of them. And considering that these children have never had their portraits taken by a photographer before, it made them even more nervous. I kept it cool, encouraging them, being silly, laughing together and often showing the captured images on my camera in order to boost their confidence. It worked out well and I was able to capture a number of great shots like this:
The older sons were even tougher to deal with, since they did not want to be photographed. I was able to convince two of them to pose for me, but could not get the third one to cooperate. He recently fell of a bike and scarred himself pretty badly, so it was a confidence issue. The brothers did not want to go outside for a photo shoot, since they did not want the neighbors to see. So I had to work with the indoors light again. While there was still some light outside, I positioned one of the brothers near a window and captured the below portrait:
The oldest brother had a hard time agreeing to be photographed, but I made him pose for a couple of shots for me in the living room:
We had to wrap up pretty quickly, because it was getting late and I needed to get back to Jerusalem sooner than later to get ready to pack up – it was time to get back to Tel Aviv. On the way, we stopped in one more spot that was a nice overlook to capture Bethlehem from – that’s where I captured one of the images with the wall and fences that I showed earlier. We were on top of a hill where Jordanians were defending their position during the Six Day War in 1967.
This local shepherd was standing on top of a structure that was used during the war – you could see battle trenches right below him.
I was told that the bodies of several Jordanian soldiers were recently discovered here.
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