During this momentous week for Palestinians and Israelis the critically acclaimed feature documentary ‘Open Bethlehem,’ will be screened to members of Congress on Capitol Hill. The screening, hosted by the Arab American Institute and Churches for Middle East Peace, will take place in the Rayburn Gold Room on Tuesday, December 12, at 2:00pm.
This screening and briefing will provide an opportunity to examine the ramifications of President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. By failing to accord similar status to Palestine, Palestinians feel the USA has abandoned them and their role as a broker of peace. US Congress will be considering how they respond to Palestinian calls for recognition of their national and human rights. Political engagement over the next few days and weeks will be crucial.
All members of Congress have been invited and presented with a ‘Bethlehem passport’ making them all honorary citizens of Bethlehem. The symbolic passports are given as a 'reminder that Bethlehem’s heritage belongs to us all'. It is an appeal to all those who care about the message of Bethlehem to act as good citizens and ambassadors to secure the city’s future.
The film “Open Bethlehem” allows a different perspective on the conflict. It is a film that allows viewers to experience, in a vivid and intimate way, the city of the bible and the Bethlehem of today with the real challenges faced by its Christian community.
The screening will be followed by a discussion with the filmmaker, Leila Sansour, who comes from one of the oldest Christian families in Bethlehem and who has been documenting the events unfolding in her city over the past decade.
Leila Sansour, director of Open Bethlehem said:
“We are desperately working to ensure the Christian community of Bethlehem are able to remain in their homeland but our task will be impossible if the U.S. refuses to assume the role of a firm and honest broker. Peace between Israelis and Palestinians today is an urgency and it cannot be achieved without a shared Jerusalem which is key if the Palestinians are to have a future.
Senators and congress should be made aware of the grave danger that Bethlehem and Jerusalem face today, and that the latest decision will only serve to further separate the two cities whose lives are inextricably linked to each other. Decisions by US politicians will have a determining effect on the chances of the survival of Christianity as a living faith in the land of its birth. We want to make sure that these policies and positions are shaped with the insight and wisdom needed to help us all through a very difficult terrain. Bethlehem and Jerusalem are part of Palestine, and their aspirations and future are inextricably linked with that of all Palestinians. This is why I am so keen to share my film on Capitol Hill.”
James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute said:
“It has long been a concern of mine that while every Christmas we sing of Bethlehem, most Americans know so little about the town and its people. 'Open Bethlehem' tells the story we need to hear and I am so very thankful to Leila Sansour for making this wonderful film and sharing her town with us."
For more information contact:
- To attend the screening RSVP here: http://www.aaiusa.org/_open_bethlehem_screening_on_the_hill
- At the turn of the 20th century Bethlehem was a vast majority Christian town. Today, Christians form only 13% of the entire population.
- A survey carried out in 2006 by Open Bethlehem revealed that 78% of Bethlehem’s Christians blame their recent waves of exodus on the Israeli blockade.
- The Israeli Wall built inside Bethlehem has now reduced the district to only 13% of its original territory. The wall hugs the densely populated urban core encasing and severing the built-up areas from thousands of acres of agricultural land, water resources and major landmarks.
- A system of cement walls and other closures, more than 20 Israeli settlements, settlers only roads and checkpoints are creating a critical environment of isolation for the people of Bethlehem.
- A world bank report published in 2013 sets the current loss to the Palestinian economy from Israeli restrictions and closures at about $3.4 billion per year. Bethlehem’s economy constitutes close to 30% of Palestine’s national GDP
- Support for Bethlehem from faith leaders:
“As Presidents of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland we wish to convey our support for the people of Bethlehem and particularly for the aims and work of the Open Bethlehem Project.We view the barrier being built around Bethlehem as a grave injustice to its people, a serious threat to its economic life and social fabric, and an affront to all Christians”.
Churches Together in Britain and Ireland
The Israeli-built wall is “a sign of all that is wrong in the human heart"
The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, upon his visit to Bethlehem in 2006.
“The people of Bethlehem are tonight celebrating the Nativity with joy. But they feel terribly alone. Recently Pope Benedict accepted, on behalf of the Catholic Church, a symbolic Bethlehem passport. He wanted to show that we are all citizens of Bethlehem, and that Bethlehem should be a free and open city. I hope that we can play our part in ensuring that it stay that way”.
Extract from cardinal Cormac Murphy- O'Connors speech at midnight Mass at Westminster Cathedral in Christmas 2005
“Bethlehem should not be allowed to die slowly from strangulation”.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu