Sarah Palin has been raising eyebrows in Israel since she set out Monday morning, on her second day in Israel to visit the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem. According to several news reports, which appear to trace back to this one in the London Telegraph, her car headed south from Jerusalem but stopped just short of the Israeli military checkpoint at the entrance to Bethlehem, hesitated for a moment, then did a U-turn and scooted back to Jerusalem. The news reports say nobody left Palin’s car before it turned and left. There’s no mention of any sort of communication her party and the soldiers at the checkpoint. Why did they leave? It’s a mystery.
The Telegraph story and others indicate that Palin’s party had not applied to the Israeli army’s West Bank civil administration for permission to enter the West Bank city, citing officials at the civil administration. The application is described as customary, though apparently not mandatory. The army had no record of anyone from Palin’s staff asking for the permit. Was there a last minute cell-phone communication between Palin’s people and the authorities when they got to the checkpoint? No indication.
The likeliest answer comes from the Israeli news site Nana10, which reports that Palin and her staff apparently were unaware that Bethlehem was not in sovereign Israel but in occupied Palestinian territory. I mean, who knew? Palin’s itinerary is just full of historical goodies like that.
Palin is said to be taking this rare overseas trip, which began in India, in order to burnish her foreign-policy credentials in advance of a likely presidential run next year. Good start.
I’ve always loved the sight of Bethlehem at night as it appears in the distance when you stand on the back patio of the dining hall at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel. I go there sometimes to visit relatives who live there. In fairness, you can’t really see Bethlehem from Wasilla, Alaska, where Palin lives.
This story "Sarah Palin's Geography Lesson: Bethlehem Is Where? Oh, Whoops." was written by J.J. Goldberg.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).