IN THE pouring rain at six p.m. on Tuesday night, in the heart
of London, workmen in hard hats, elevated eight metres above the
ground, were not quite finished. Nevertheless, just the top of the
tower of St James's, Piccadilly, remained visible, the rest of Sir
Christopher Wren's church obscured by a thick grey wall, topped
with barbed wire. Floodlights powered by a generator struggled in
the wind and rain.
Despite the conditions, more than a hundred people were present
to witness the unveiling of Wall, a replica of the
separation barrier constructed in Bethlehem. The installation is
part of a 12-day festival at the church - Bethlehem
Unwrapped - designed to celebrate Bethlehem through art,
music, food and debate.
Members of the public are invited to write prayers and messages
of hope on the wall. Inside the church is an exhibition of art by
children living in Bethlehem, entitled All They Paint is the
Wall. On Tuesday night, their pictures were projected on to
Wall, bearing witness to the collection's title, a quote
from one of the children's teachers at Dar Al-Kalima Lutheran
The festival's curator, Justin Butcher, who created
Wall, described it as a response to the Kairos Palestine
document issued by the churches of the Holy Land in 2009 (News, 11 December 2009).
This document states that "the Israeli occupation of Palestinian
land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the
Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God." It
calls on the international community to "stand by the Palestinian
people who have faced oppression, displacement, suffering and clear
apartheid for more than six decades". The statement is critical of
the separation barrier.
Israel began building a barrier in and around the West Bank in
2002, with the stated aim of preventing attacks by Palestinians
inside Israel. It is planned to cover 712 km (442 miles) and is
currently 62 per cent complete. The UN Office for the Coordination
of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) reported this year that 85 per
cent of the route is inside the West Bank. Around 11,000
Palestinians living in 32 communities located behind the barrier
depend on the granting of permits or special arrangements to live
in their own homes. UNOCHA warned this year that the completion of
the barrier in Western Bethlehem would "sever the urban area from
its agricultural lands" and reduce the access of more than 23,000
residents to Bethlehem City, their chief centre for health,
education, and trade. In 2004, the International Court of Justice
issued an advisory opinion which stated that the construction of
the wall inside the West Bank violated Israel's obligations under
international law. The court called on Israel to cease construction
of the Barrier, dismantle the sections already completed, and
repeal all legislative measures related to that the Barrier.
On Tuesday, the Rector of St James's, the Revd Lucy Winkett,
said that the Church had been asked many times, "But why are you
doing this? Twenty of us went to visit Israel and the Palestinian
territories in October and one of the lasting memories of our time
there was this wall. It looks exactly like this. For most people
possibly, Bethlehem is not a real place. It is a mythical place. .
. We at St James's are glad and proud to be supporting the town of
Bethlehem this Christmas."
She suggested that it was "unhelpful to be pro one side or the
other. We are inviting members of the public to come and write on
this wall messages of hope and peace for the people of Bethlehem.
There will be no censorship unless it is divisive."
In a video message recorded in Bethlehem and projected on to the
wall, Sami Awad, director of Holy Land Trust, said: "It is not
enough just to know what is happening in Bethlehem. . . The people
who live in Bethlehem under occupation, surrounded by walls and
fences . . . the message to you is 'Come and see, come and see what
life is like in Bethlehem, and be witness to the injustice that is
happening in this city.'"
Jeff Halper, founder and director of the Israeli Committee
Against House Demolitions, said: "This is a very courageous thing
for a church to do, to speak up like this."
He described the wall constructed by Israel as a "deadly barrier
that people cannot pass". It was not a security measure but "built
in a way that allows the settlements to grow. It defines the
cantons in which Palestinians will be confined. It does not
separate Israelis from Palestinians, it separates Palestinians from
He said: "If we are speaking about sides, I think there are
sides. It does not break down into Israelis and Palestinians, but
it breaks down into people that think human rights are the way we
have to live our lives and those that believe that violence and
division and sectarianism is the way. I think we are on the side of
The festival will feature an evening of slam poetry on Sunday,
stand-up comedy on Monday, and a Christmas supper served by the
chefs Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi on 3 January. At the end of
12 days, on Sunday 5 January, the violinist Nigel Kennedy will
perform his original composition, The Bridge, and Wall
will be "transformed into a symbol of peace".
All profits from the festival will be donated to the Future
Peacemakers Appeal, Holy Land Trust, Bethlehem.