It’s Christmas season and the little town of Bethlehem is jammed with a big-city problem: Traffic snarling streets everywhere, including around the church marking the spot where tradition says Jesus was born. The city is considering a dramatic solution to the problem — digging a tunnel under Manger Square. Traffic is a mess year-round. It may be the biblical town of grottos and shepherds’ fields in the minds of many around the world, but Bethlehem is a modern densely populated town of 28,000 with a dizzying weave of small streets that practically guarantee traffic jams.
Bethlehem is going through a crisis. We think that the solution to this traffic is to build an underground passage between the two sides of the square.
Anton Salman, a Bethlehem city councilor
Bethlehem’s municipality hopes to eventually build several tunnels around the Palestinian city, where the urban development problems are myriad. Bethlehem is sandwiched on three sides by other towns. From the north and southeast, it is hemmed in by Israel’s separation barrier and Jewish settlements, leaving it little choice but to build vertically. The area around the Nativity Church, built atop the site where Christians believe Jesus was born, is particularly busy, with a mix of tourists swarming the area and cars squeezing across the central Manger Square.
If Joseph and Mary came back to Bethlehem, they would be shocked. Bethlehem doesn’t deserve to be crowded with people and heavy traffic. It should be more open with wide spaces so people can go and enjoy the home of Jesus.
Mazen Karam, the director of the Bethlehem Development Foundation