If you go to Bethlehem and want to return back to Jerusalem, make sure you take your passport! I had a bunch of Israeli soldiers approach me from behind an armoured vehicle and point the guns in my face becuase of this!
I took a bus from Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem which dropped me off just on the outskirts of Bethlehem (I was expecting it to take me right into the town itself). From here, I was feeling a bit deserted and was accosted by a taxi driver (who was apparently a geography teacher when not scouting for tourists) who took me on a great little tour of the area and then into Bethlehem itself. Bethlehem was quite under-whelming compared to the other churches and monasteries in the area.
The checkpoint going out of Jerusalem was barely noticable and was not asked for any ID
. Coming back, courtesy of Palestinian taxi driver, he asked me to get my ID
ready as we approached the checkpoint coming back into Jerusalem. 'Bugger me,' I thought. The young Israeli soldiers sneered at my credit cards and would not let through. I was stranded and could not contact my guesthouse over the phone. I entrusted my room key to the taxi driver so he could go and retrieve my passport and come back and collect me. Meanwhile, I sat on a large rock as nightfall arrived and waited, fully expecting that I would have to return to Bethlehem and get in touch with the British consulate.
After about an hour, a vehicle approached me. To say I was delighted was an understatement. I leapt up off the rock and ran towards it. It was only then that the soldiers sprung into action and shouted at me. I didn't need babelfish to realise I should stop and put my hands in the air! After a few minutes, the soldiers realised I was just a harmless, foreign twat and left me. 10 minutes later, my knight in a shining taxi arrived with my passport. He received a much deserved tip. It was ordinary, good natured people like this taxi driver that make you despair at the situation in Israel as both parties to the conflict are demonised as, according to the media, ordinary, peaceful people do not exist. The next morning, the manager at my guesthouse took the piss out of me mercilessly.
This was happened around Christmas 2003. Israel was completely devoid of tourists as the Iraq war was in full swing and there was the heightened threat of Palestinian terrorists blowing themselves up. I would expect that the checkpoints in the West Bank itself have now largely been removed (these enraged my Palestinian taxi driver no end) but I would expect
the checkpoint between Jerusalem and the West Bank to still be in place although you'll only notice this on the way back into Israeli controlled areas.
Just remember to take your passport with you at all times!