Glimpses of Israel - Beit Lechem

by Joseph Hunting

It is not generally known that there are two Bethlehems in Israel. The one associated with the birthplace of the Messiah is just five miles south of Jerusalem and is on the visiting list of nearly every tourist in Israel.

But there is another Bethlehem (Beit Lechem) in Galilee which was in existence even before Joshua invaded the land of Canaan. The meaning of the name, House of Bread, suggests that Beit Lechem was the centre of a grain-growing and farming community.

After the land of Canaan was divided among the twelve tribes of Israel Bethlehem was included in the territory allocated to Zebulun, and it is interesting to observe that of the 18 Canaanite cities taken over by Zebulun, two, Beit Lechem and Nahalal, have survived to this day.

Beit Lechem in Galilee is still a farming community whose members form a Moshav. Unlike a Kibbutz which is run on the collective communal system where nothing is owned by Kibbutz members, the Moshav is partly collective and partly free enterprise. Members of a Moshav live in their own homes as family units and reap the benefits of both free enterprise and collective farming.

Beit Lechem is situated in magnificent farming country ideally situated for grain crops and dairying. It is a land where Jews and Arabs farm the fields side by side. Our host, Chaim, introduced us to the local Bedouin chief whose forefathers had farmed these fields for generations. Chaim spoke Arabic fluently. The half-brothers, one a descendant of Ishmael and the other a descendant of Isaac, both claimed Abraham as their common ancestor and both loved and tilled the same soil over which so much Jewish and Arab blood has been spilt. Yet these two, an elderly Bedouin chief and our genial Jewish host were the best of friends.

Beit Lechem, together with scores of towns and settlements whose origins can be traced back to Biblical times, fulfils God's promise concerning this land. " I will settle you after your old estates, and will do better unto you than at your beginnings" (Ezekiel 36:11).