After the Church of the Nativity, Lia suggested that we take a taxi to the monastery of St. George al-Khader. It was closed, but Lia's father, who is a priest at a parish in the area, called his friend who works there and arranged for him to open the church to us. Although it is called a monastery and was historically so, it is now quite small. I'm not sure if there are any monks living there.
Here, his friend is putting the bridle of St. George's horse on me three times, which is an old tradition and blessing.
After St. George's, the taxi driver suggested that we go to Herodium. Although in the West Bank, the site is operated by Israel and Lia, despite living almost within sight of it, had never been allowed to see it. For whatever reason, though, something had recently changed to allow Palestinians to visit the site, so Lia was excited at the possibility of going there.
As a side note, although I suppose it was obvious, I was startled to realize that Lia, when she travels back and forth to Greece, is not allowed to use the nearby Tel Aviv airport because she is Palestinian. Instead, she has to make a 7-hour bus trip each way to Amman, Jordan. Palestinians' travel is further complicated by the fact that Israel closes its border crossing points on the Sabbath, so Palestinians have to make sure not to go in or out on Saturdays.
Anyway, the site is yet another fortress built atop a hill by Herod. In the photo above, you can see us walking up the stairs that wind around the hill.
A view of the surrounding countryside from the top. One thing that struck my dad and me immediately in the West Bank was the visible signs of poverty, as compared to the adjacent Israeli-controlled territory.
A view of the inside of the fortress. In the bottom left in the shade is an interesting room. It was built by Herod as a Roman-inspired triclinium, but was adapted by the Jewish rebels against Rome (ca. 70 AD) and made into a synagogue. Many think that some early Christian gatherings in the first century were held in such rooms.
As we left the Herodium, we got a slowed down a bit by a Palestinian shepherd walking his flock.