Many research papers discussed the significance of Bethlehem. The Bible says that this is the birthplace of Jesus. Jews, Christians and Muslims believe that this hem of the Judaean desert is the Holy Land. But what is written in those papers is far from what the present-day city is.
Bethlehem is one of the most contentious places on Earth. A wall was erected by the Israeli government to keep terrorists away. Within the barrier are old homes made of pale yellow stones, refugee camps and settlements where inhabitants are suspicious of one another.
A number of research papers traced the origin of this problem. During World War II, Israel was known as the British Mandate for Palestine. After the war, in the wake of the Holocaust, the United Nations voted to partition the region into two states - one Jewish, one Arab. Jews accepted the plan, but Arabs did not. Fighting between Arabs and Jews began even before Israel declared independence in 1948. The ensuing war resulted in about 750,000 Palestinians fleeing their native villages, many of them forced to do so by the Israeli army. Many relocated to the West Bank of the Jordan River, administered by Jordan, or the Gaza Strip, governed by Egypt. These were the first Palestinian refugees.
A few research papers pointed to the fact that Bethlehem is a Christian town for centuries. Muslims came in steadily. Israel's victory in the Six Day War of 1967 altered the city's complexion. Jewish settlers began moving into the occupied West Bank, a place many Israelis refer to by its biblical name, Judaea and Samaria; Christians, who started fleeing to safer lands during World War II, accelerated their exodus; and Palestinian militants initiated attacks on military and civilian targets. In the same region where Jews once battles Philistines, it's now Israelis against Palestinians.
Visitors would encounter people quoting from the Bible, reciting from the Koran, chanting from the Torah. Some would show their fields or even point to their olive groves. Some invoke history, while others envision the future (if there'll be one). Some pray with knees on the ground, some with foreheads on the ground, some with feet firmly planted but with torsos turning and swaying. Some throw stones and some drive tanks and some wrap themselves with explosives. All these things can be disturbing, and it's even more puzzling when non-residents would realize that the land that Jews, Christians and Muslims revere, fight and even kill for is just a tiny scrap of wind-soured, water-starved, rock-strewn bit of ground.
Make no mistake that every corner in Bethlehem smells of history; no research paper would contradict that. But the conflicts played out in that tiny land are capable of transcending borders and consequently affect the future of millions of people.
Kyle Steven Rundell wrote several research papers on world politics and ancient history. He's also a frequent contributor of historical features. He makes it a point to visit Europe every year because it looks (and smells) old; anything about the past excites him.