St. James’ Church in central London unveiled an eight-meter-high replica of the Israeli-built concrete wall that entirely surrounds the Palestinian city of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, the traditional birthplace of Jesus.
It is an effort to bring to London some of the reality of what it is like to live in Bethlehem in 2013.
The wall deliberately obscures the facade of the historic St. James’ Church “because that is what has happened to Bethlehem’s holy sites and historic places.”
“This Christmas we’ve built a huge wall across the front of our church. We’d really like you to come and see it because it’s what the people of Bethlehem are experiencing today,” explains Reverend Lucy Winkett, rector of the church, in the brief video above.
The wall is part of the “Bethlehem Unwrapped” festival, which features a week of events, starting on 29 December, including music by Reem Kelani and Nigel Kennedy, comedy with Jeremy Hardy and Mark Steel, as well as films and panels.
“Unwrapping” traditional images
“We’re unwrapping the traditional, Victorian, sentimental images of Christmas and showing this is what Bethlehem today looks like – an eight-meter high concrete separation wall surrounding it,” explains Justin Butcher, the festival’s director.
Butcher said that the replica took eight months to plan and eight days to build before it was unveiled on 23 December.
During the time it is up, people are invited to write their own messages on it.
In what appears to be a concession to apartheid supporters, however, one of the panels features Israeli embassy spokesperson Yiftah Curiel and Alan Johnson of the Israel lobby group Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM), in what is likely to be a spirited debate with Jeff Halper, founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and Leila Sansour, Bethlehem resident, filmaker and founder of Open Bethlehem.
“This wall is symbolic of walls all over the world that divide and confine peoples, restricting free movement and dominating the imagination of those who live behind them,” the festival website explains.
“We believe that bridges not walls are the only lasting foundation for peace. On Sunday 5th January at the end of the festival, the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany, the Wall itself will be transformed into a symbol of peace and hope.”
“O Little Town of Bethlehem”
This short film, posted last Christmas, is “the story of the birth of Jesus told by the people of Bethlehem” themselves.
The video, made by St Paul’s Church, Auckland, New Zealand, shows what the real wall looks like as citizens of Bethlehem talk about its devastating impact.