MILLIONS will sing about the "little town of Bethlehem" this
Christmas, but a new documentary hopes to bring home to audiences
the reality of life today in the Palestinian city.
Open Bethlehem, a 90-minute film by the Christian
director Leila Sansour, who was born in Bethlehem, was launched
last Friday. Ms Sansour said that her film sought to show how the
Israeli security wall was strangling the life out of the city.
Drawing on more than 700 hours of footage, Open
Bethlehem was not just a campaign to bring down the barrier,
but also an attempt show how Christians, Jews, and Muslims could
live together, she said.
"Bethlehem historically has been a city shared by Christians and
Muslims," she said. "The relationship has been quite good.
Bethlehem is a model city for how good relationships have been
between different communities. It was always . . . able to absorb
Ms Sansour returned to the city in 2004 just as the Israeli
authorities began building the concrete wall around Bethlehem,
which is in places up to eight metres high. She had planned to
spend a year making her film, but eventually stayed for eight years
after getting drawn into the anti-wall campaign.
"It's got under my skin, I suppose. I had to do something. The
campaign is about reaching out to explain the situation to
decision-makers around the world. We wanted to reach out to
churches. More importantly, we want Bethlehem to remain open. The
city is being stifled," she said.
The security barrier makes travel between Bethlehem and
Jerusalem very difficult, cutting off business, family, and
religious contacts. Ms Sansour said that it was a "shock" for the
Christians, especially as they were part of the same diocese as
those in Jerusalem.
In addition, the wall does not follow the borders between the
West Bank and Israel, but slices off chunks of Palestinian land,
including the last Palestinian vineyard and valuable land that was
to be used to build homes.
Part of the film is a series of interviews on the streets of
London. Ms Sansour said she was astonished to discover that the
majority of British people she spoke to were not sure if Bethlehem
"Bethlehem as a symbol lives in people's imagination as the
birthplace of Jesus," she said. "I want to make sure that everybody
feels like a stakeholder in the survival of Bethlehem and its
values." Part of this effort is concentrated in the creation of a
symbolic Bethlehem passport, which will act as an invitation to
outsiders to visit the city. Tourism, often involving Christians,
is now the main industry in Bethlehem.
"We ask people to visit so that Bethlehem remains an open city
with a link to the world. It is more a campaign that tries to build
a bridge with the world," she said.
Despite the previous good relations between Christians and
Muslims, Ms Sansour said that tensions were increasing with the
rise of Islamism in the region. "Growing political Islam is making
everybody uncomfortable," she said.
Find out film screening times here:
Watch the trailer here: