WHERE IS BETHLEHEM, IN PALESTINE OR ISRAEL?
Bethlehem is in the country of Palestine (although not officially recognized as a country yet and as yet without full autonomy). Palestine is on the continent of Asia, in the Middle East within the borders of Israel. Palestine includes several territories, the West Bank being one of them and within Palestine’s West Bank is Bethlehem, the birth place of Jesus. Bethlehem lies 5mi/8km south of Jerusalem between two peaks on the Judean mountain range between Israel and Jordan. Christian pilgrimage tours to Bethlehem are frequently and easily arranged from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, Israel.
UNDERSTANDING WHERE BETHLEHEM IS:
Bethlehem is in the area called the West bank as it is on the west bank of the Jordan River. The West Bank is also referred to as Judea and Samaria. Bethlehem, also the name of the district where the city of Bethlehem is, means “House of bread”. Palestine refers to the “land of the Philistines” the area of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Later it came to mean the land of Israel and today refers to the land of the Arab State of Palestine. Bethlehem lies within the West Bank, one of the Palestinian territories.
WHERE IS BETHLEHEM POLITICALLY?
There is confusion as to which country Bethlehem is in because of the many times that the area has changed hands. Bethlehem belonged to the Ottomans, then the British and after WWII Bethlehem was allocated by the UN to be part of the Arab nation of Palestine one of two new nations in the area (Israel and Palestine). In 48′ Jordan occupied Bethlehem and the West Bank and they remained there until 1967 when during the six day war Israel gained the area, the West Bank remains under Israeli military control.
The Palestinian Arabs struggle for their own independent nation culminated in 1994 when the Palestinian Authority was officially recognized and given authority over Gaza and the West Bank. The extent of their authority varies from area to area, but they are what will eventually be a Palestinian government governing over the Palestinian country which will include the West Bank and of course Bethlehem. Palestine’s status has yet to be internationally agreed upon so for now politically Bethlehem is in the West Bank within the Israeli Occupied Territories which is autonomously run by Palestinian Authority.
What does all this confusion with Bethlehem’s position mean for a traveler wanting to visit the Christian holy sites in Bethlehem, Palestine?
CHRISTIAN PILGRIMAGE TOURS FROM TEL AVIV TO BETHLEHEM
A Christian pilgrimage tour to Bethlehem in Palestine from Tel Aviv normally leaves in the morning (about 7:30/8:00) and if your tour does not include Jerusalem or other attractions the tour could take about 4 hours ( a half day tour) Usually tours include Jerusalem and Bethlehem a full day tour would take 10 hours. The Christian tour bus picks up travelers from their Tel Aviv hotels. A Christian pilgrimage tour to Bethlehem in Palestine from Tel Aviv should cost you between $88 and $130.
CHRISTIAN PILGRIMAGE TOURS FROM JERUSALEM
As with the Tel Aviv tours tourists are picked up from their Jerusalem hotels and transported by bus to Bethlehem. The tours may leave a little later (about 09:00) and cost slightly less than the Tel Aviv tours because of Jerusalem’s proximity to Bethlehem. It will take less time to reach Bethlehem from Jerusalem than from Tel Aviv. It takes 20-30 minutes by tour bus from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and then another 10 minutes to Manger Square in the center of Bethlehem.
ALL CHRISTIAN PILGRIMAGE TOURS TO BETHLEHEM IN PALESTINE
When taking a Christian Pilgrimage tour from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv you don’t need to worry about getting a visa to Palestine or about how to cross the border, you simply bring along the passport you entered Israel with.
All tours, from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem will travel by bus along the Israeli roads, past the Israeli security wall, until reaching the Israeli military checkpoint – Rachel’s Crossing – at the entrance to Bethlehem (Palestinian West Bank). Here passports are show, only Israeli passport holders have restrictions on entering Bethlehem other passports with Israeli tourist visas can enter. There is no need to disembark at the border although on some tours you will need to change buses at the Palestinian border.
Tour buses can also now use two other points of entry in to Palestine, through the Tunnels checkpoint near Beit Jalla and the Mazmouria checkpoint near Beit Sahour as well as the Rachel Crossing.
After crossing the checkpoint into Palestinian territory and into Bethlehem you then have about another 10 minute bus ride until reaching Manger Square and the major holy Christian sites of Bethlehem. If you prefer to travel independently you will need to leave your Israeli bus at the checkpoint and continue into Palestine on foot or by Palestinian taxi, on returning without a tour you will need to pass through a metal detector.
CHRISTIAN PILGRIMAGE TOURS TO BETHLEHEM, PALESTINE
A visit to the birth place of Jesus is a once in a life time experience and one which Christian pilgrims should not pass up. Taking an organized tour to Bethlehem from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv is simple as well as safe. When you are traveling with a group you easily go through the checkpoint between Bethlehem and Israel and your route to and from the holy sites is planned and organized for you.