IN THE pouring rain at six on Monday last week, 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, was visible. and the rest of Sir
Christopher Wren's church was 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 100 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.
On Saturday, a debate is due to take place: "Both sides of the
Barrier - Separation or Security?". A representative of the Embassy
of Israel, London, had been due to speak, but has since
The open letter from the Embassy to the church reads: "We have
closely followed the unfolding of the Bethlehem Unwrapped event
this past week, and have been brought to the inescapable conclusion
that this is not an event which is intended to deepen understanding
or promote reconciliation but rather is a transparent attempt to
incite against Israel and Israelis."
It continues: "Where we feel that there is an openness to
genuine discussion, we are committed to participating and engaging
in genuine debate. However, to participate in an event of this
nature would in our view be a disservice to the hundreds of
Israelis, Jews and Christians alike, murdered in acts of suicide
terrorism which the barrier was established to prevent."
The Rector of St James's, the Revd Lucy Winkett, said on Friday
that St James's' was "naturally disappointed" to learn of the
embassy's decision to withdraw from the panel discussion.
"We believed we had made clear the content of the festival and
as part of that were keen to have a panel discussion in which the
case would be made for the Barrier's building and maintenance as
authoritatively as possible." The church refuted the embassy's
characterisation of the festival, she said, "and remain committed
to providing an opportunity for different views to be
Alan Johnson, from the British Israel Communications and
Research Centre, and John Lyndon, Director of One Voice Europe,
participated at the event alongside other Israeli and Palestinian
Members of the public are invited to write prayers and messages
of hope on the wall. Inside the church is an exhibition of art,
"All They Paint is the Wall", by children living in
Bethlehem. 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). A spokesman for the project said on Thursday
that thousands of people had been to the Piccadilly wall since it
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
currently 62 per cent has been completed.
Speaking on the evening of the launch, Ms 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
In a video message recorded in Bethlehem and projected on to the
wall, the director of Holy Land Trust, Sami Awad, 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.'"
The founder and director of the Israeli Committee Against House
Demolitions, Jeff Halper, said: "This is a very courageous thing
for a church to do, to speak up like this."