El-Khader - Bethlehem
El-Khader is an elongated village of some 5,000 inhabitants, stretching for over 1.5 km east of the Jerusalem Tunnel. The two main attractions of El-Khader lie at either end of the village. The Monastery of El-Khader, also known as the Monastery of Saint George, at the western end of the village near the Jerusalem Tunnel, has become a place of pilgrimage for Muslims and Christians alike. El-Khader (literally, the ‘Green One’) is something of a magical figure in Islamic folklore, a benevolent spirit who travels the world dispensing justice and good advice. St. George is merely one human manifestation of El-Khader (the Old Testament prophet Elijah is another), and St. George’s defeat of the dragon and the rescue of the damsel in distress are typical of El-Khader’s style. For this reason, all Christian churches dedicated to St. George are also venerated by Muslims as sites associated with El-Khader.
The present church, constructed in 1912, is built over the ruins of a 16th -century chapel located on the spot where St. George was supposed to have lived for part of his life. Little of this original chapel has survived. The modern edifice has a typically Greek Orthodox interior, with a highly decorated ceiling and walls and a portrait of Christ Pantocrator in the dome. In both Christian and Muslim traditions St. George is associated with healing the sick, and during the Ottoman era some of the rooms in the convent were used to house the mentally ill.
The second attraction is Solomon’s Pools which lie 200m east of the arch at the village’s entrance. Of the three pools, the middle one contains a murky dribble of unsanitary water, while the other two are dry.