Back in Bethlehem Jo and I decided to visit Rachel’s tomb. This fiercely contested tomb used to be opposite the house of Claire Anastas.
Firstly to get there we needed to cross from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, even though the tomb is still in Bethlehem. This involved us crossing the border and the wall again as we had to last year.
Today was a lot quieter than when we had crossed previously and we sailed through in about 20 minutes. We stepped out onto Israeli soil unsure of where to go. A weathered metal sign pointed the way but all we could see was concrete walls and what looked like another checkpoint.
We really had no clue where to go firstly we walked right, but soon realised that this was the wrong way, then we walked left down towards some soldiers, but this I thought must have been wrong as well so we went back into the checkpoint/crossing and thought that maybe the tomb was stuck in the middle of the checkpoint as we knew it was guarded. The soldier who had checked our passports as we entered into Israeli control asked us why we were back so soon. We asked the way to Rachel’s tomb. At first she had no clue as to what we were on about (surprising as it is so close and so contested by the Jews)
She told us it was to the left and we had to go where the soldiers were, so across the border we trekked again and walked down to the guarded entrance. We were stopped and told we could walk no further and that we needed transport to visit the tomb. We knew that the tomb could be no more than half a mile away, but no we were not allowed to enter without transport. We were told to wait. Car after car went passed us, some full, some with room….no-one stopped to offer us a lift. I muttered under my breath that if this was in Palestine someone would have stopped and taken us to the tomb as that was obviously the only place we were heading. We must have waited about 20 minutes and I was just about to say, “Come on let’s head back” when a taxi appeared. 20 sheckles later and a drive that lasted all of a couple of minutes and we were there.
The first thing I noticed was Claire Anastas’s house, shocked at how close it actually was even though I had seen the wall from the other side. She really had been right opposite the tomb. That is her house with the satellite dishes and water tanks on the roof.
The area was full of people and tour groups, I could hazard a guess that we were the only non Jews there at that time and there were definitely no Muslims as they are forbidden to enter there now.
We entered into the hallowed tomb, no-one spoke to us, no-one welcomed us we were just stared at. I really felt as if we shouldn’t have been there. I cast a quick glance around the room and then left, wondering how we were going to get back out of the ‘area’ as we were sure that we wouldn’t be allowed to walk back out again.
Next to the painting is the story of Rachel and this was where she died, naming Bethlehem as her resting place.
“Oh so this is still Bethlehem, even though Bethlehem is in Palestine.” Jo pulled me away from the group of Jews who were looking daggers at me.
We waited for an age for some transport to get us out of the area again ,many cars drove past none offering us a lift when luckily some other tourists arrived in a taxi, which we climbed into before they had fully gotten out, just to make sure we could get out of the place.
So we crossed the border again, back into The West Bank and to go and see Claire and show her and her sister the photographs of how the tomb now looks.
Life for them is no better and they are again under threat of losing their houses and business, this has caused a huge rift between the pair of them and they no longer speak. Divisions within divisions so sad!
Claire took us into her shop and showed us her new goods which she is trying to sell online which has to be her main source of income as they get so few passing visitors. She also had had no guests in her guesthouse for over 3 months. Having international visitors are a lifeline for them as having a presence means the soldiers harass them less.
For more information about what Claire sells in her shop please visit http://www.anastas-bethlehem.com
I popped in next door to see Claire’s sister, Arlette, who probably gets even fewer visitors than Claire (as Claire will probably get to them first…she is rather like a terrier with a bone). Arlette is very gentle and softly spoken and showed me her pride and joy, her baptism garments.
I bid farewell to these ladies not knowing if they would still be there by the wall if ever I returned.
We then walked the wall again to see the graffiti. Some had been painted over since last year, some had been improved and some had been completely destroyed and that will be my next blog just a lot of photographs taken of the wall.