OPEN BETHLEHEM is an international campaign that works to promote global engagement with Bethlehem as a real and contemporary city in the Middle East. It does so by supporting the distribution of communication tools about Bethlehem to boost international interest and awareness and by promoting visits to Bethlehem through established and specialized tour operators. The campaign also works to develop a network of passionate ambassadors for the city through the Bethlehem Passport Program.
OPEN BETHLEHEM"s vision is to support a lasting peace settlement between Palestine and Israel using Bethlehem as a doorway for global engagement. As an iconic city, and a Palestinian city, Bethlehem has both power and responsibility to act and use its global outreach to promote positive change.
Since its launch in 2005, OPEN BETHLEHEM has succeeded in building a large base of supporters through a campaign focused on the Bethlehem Passport – a symbolic citizenship of an iconic town that stands for Joy and Goodwill to all. The Passport was created by Open Bethlehem in partnership with the Bethlehem Governorate to invite engagement with the city and the wider cause of the region.
The appeal proved extremely popular, inspiring many people to act with acumen and initiative by, for instance, setting up export businesses from Bethlehem, organizing talks, local festivals, tour groups, fundraising to support the campaign as well as producing and distributing a variety of materials such as research data, books and radio programs. OPEN BETHLEHEM itself quickly became a key address in Palestine for fact-finding tours and visiting high-profile delegations wishing to become better educated about the political reality.
The experience illustrated that Bethlehem is an ideal gateway into the conflict and that the city’s name has an enormous pull on an influential American and European constituency whose role will be crucial in securing a more decisive commitment from their governments towards brokering and forging a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine.
Ultimately, it is the forging of a lasting peace agreement between Israel and Palestine that will eventually lead to the dismantling of the wall around Bethlehem, and the rest of Palestinian cities, and the preservation of Bethlehem’s heritage – both its living communities and their land. It would be impossible to save Bethlehem without granting Palestinians the right to self determination. It is equally impossible to envisage a pluralist Middle East, a major factor for the future of democracy and open society in the entire region, without saving model cities like Bethlehem. These ideas are at the heart of the OPEN BETHLEHEM campaign.