I haven’t visited all the countries in the world but I’m sure of one thing. The Holy Land is one of the most diverse regions which you can imagine. Full stop.
Diversity in a small piece of land
The most bizarre thing, though, is that this diversity is comically disproportionate to the little area of the country. Sometimes it makes you go to sleep with a headache. Sometimes you just ask yourself “how am I supposed not to get crazy here?”. Whatever you see, you can see the opposite also.
I will start with saying that life in Bethlehem draws you into itself. Bethlehem is today an Arabic town, very similar to other Middle Eastern cities. But in the same time it’s just radically different from Jerusalem even though the distance between them is just… 8,5 km. As we know, the whole atmosphere of the place isn’t made by museums or sandy views or even the history. The atmosphere is about the people – they are the ones that make you dizzy. Who lives here? That’s the answer (complicated).
I just want to add that I write about the Holy Land as a whole without any political details.
Arabs in the Holy Land
Let’s say we’re standing in front of the Nativity Church in Bethlehem. In Bethlehem (means in the Palestinian Authority) you’ll meet Arabs – that’s obvious. You will see crowds of pilgrims going to the Church and somewhere in between them local Arabic Christians. There is about 17% of Arabic Christians in the inhabitants of Bethlehem, which is just assessed, not studied. Older generations remember the times when almost all Bethlehem was a home for Arabic Christians. Unfortunately Christians tend to emigrate more often and secondly their birth rate is much lower than the one in Muslim families. Then yes – their neighbours are Arabic Muslims, sunnies. In front of the Nativity Church, just on the other side of the square there is a mosque, of course not the only one in the town. All of them identify themselves as Palestinians, they speak Arabic and preserve Arabic customs.
Jews in the neighbourhood
Just 8,5 km away – in the same-not the same country – there is Jerusalem, within the borders of Israel. There are also Arabs, also mostly Muslims and some Christians but also Druze. It’s one islamic denomination which (to be short and general) recognises the rightness of all religions, which definitely makes their life easier. The Druze also speak Arabic and have Arabic origin. But that’s not all. In Israel you can also find plenty of… Arabic Jews. They came from different countries. Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia etc. They are often called Mizrahi Jews and most of them came here in 50’s last century. What’s interesting is the fact that for ages they were living in Arabic countries in peace together with their Muslim and Christian neighbours – all of them of semitic origin.
But while walking down the streets of Jerusalem in Jewish quarters you would rather notice that most of their inhabitants don’t have semitic traces. Why? Those are Ashkenazi Jews, means coming from Eastern Europe. They arrived here after the II World War. There is also one group “somewhere in between” those two mentioned above – Sephardi Jews coming from Iberian Peninsula. They are somehow close to the European culture but in fact they share more traditions with Arabic Jews. But… that’s not all! There is also a very interesting group of Ethiopian Jews. Their tradition mentions the beautiful Queen of Saba as the one who brought Judaism to their country after she met the King Salomon in Jerusalem.
It’s impossible to describe it simplier but… that is just a general picture. The real life is always full of even more diverse stories. Visit us soon!