Standing beside it, you feel as if you're at the base of a dam. Israeli soldiers armed with assault rifles examine your papers. They search your vehicle. No Israeli civilian, by military order, is allowed in. And few Bethlehem residents are permitted out—the reason the wall exists here, according to the Israeli government, is to keep terrorists away from Jerusalem.
The Israeli government says it's working. The mayor of Bethlehem, who by city ordinance must be Christian despite the largely Muslim population, says it is destroying the city. He is not allowed outside the wall after 7 p.m.
At two o'clock in the morning most weekdays, several hundred men who do have something to lose—wives, children—begin lining up on the Bethlehem side of the wall. They're seeking work in Israel proper. They stand inside a long steel cage, like a cattle chute, waiting to be searched and prodded and fingerprinted and metal-detected. Some are told to strip. The process can take more than two hours. To be allowed through the checkpoint, you must be married and have one or more children. This, the Israeli army hopes, will ensure the laborers' return.
Many of the men are construction workers—often in the settlements. They wait in line for hours to build houses for their enemies on land that used to belong to them. They're paid $35 a day. Then they return home through the wall.
"Do you think we want to do this?" says one of the men, 35-year-old Sufian Sabateen. He holds a paper bag containing hummus and bread. He's smoking an L&M cigarette. His face, lit harshly by the klieg lights of the wall, is stoic. It's an hour before dawn. Sabateen insists he'd gladly work in Bethlehem for half the salary, but there are no jobs. This is how he describes his week: "From the mattress to work, from work to the mattress. My life is no life."
How long of a walk from there, I wonder, is it to martyrdom?
You know how at football games people hold up posters that say "John 3:16?"
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
They never mention that, three sentences later, come the saddest words in the Bible.
"This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil."