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Thousands visit Piccadilly Separation Wall

03 January 2014


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 A representative of the Embassy of Israel, London, had been due to speak, but has since withdrawn.

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 aired." 

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 speakers. 

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 school.

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 was erected.

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 this Christmas."

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."




Forthcoming Events

6-7 September 2022
Preaching as Pilgrimage conference
From the College of Preachers.

26 September 2022
What am I living for? God
Sam Wells and Lucy Winkett begin the St Martin-in-the-Fields autumn lecture series in partnership with Church Times.

27-28 September 2022
humbler church Bigger God conference
The HeartEdge Conference in Manchester includes the Theology Slam Live Final.

More events

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