A giant replica of Israel’s separation wall, which cuts off the West Bank and Bethlehem, has appeared in central London.
The installation at St James’ Anglican church in Piccadilly is a living art exhibit making a powerful point. It marks the opening of ‘Bethlehem Unwrapped’ a twelve-days of Christmas cultural festival at the magnificent Christopher Wren designed church.
The festival opened on Monday 23 December and will run until Sunday 5 January 2014. It is being staged by award –winning writer and director Justin Butcher.
Bethlehem Unwrapped aims to capture the spirit of Christmas with a rich and eclectic programme created as a response to the Kairos Palestine document issued by the united Churches of the Holy Land.
A unique cross artform event, it will feature live music, film, food, theatre, poetry, comedy and All They Paint is the Wall, an exhibition of children’s art from Bethlehem.
The wall – which emblemises the tragic division of Jewish and Palestinian people by unjust policies in the region - features lighting design by Willie Williams (who has worked with names including The Rolling Stone, U2, Lady Gaga and Complicite) and the screening of a specially-commissioned film to play on the installation created by Damien Hale, Luke Halls and Sam Pattinson of the Treatment Studio.
Other highlights of the Festival include performances by the internationally renowned violinist Nigel Kennedy. His latest composition, The Bridge, features in an evening of music which includes singers from the Tallis Scholars and the celebrated Palestinian singer Reem Kelani; a sumptuous Bethlehem inspired fund-raising supper hosted and created by hugely inventive and renowned Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi and his partner Sami Tamimi;
There is also a comedy evening, ‘Stand Up Against the Wall’, with Dave Cohen, Ivor Dembina, Mark Steel and Andy Zaltzman; Palestinian film maker Leila Sansour introducing a screening of her film Jeremy Hardy v The Israeli Army; panel discussions on culture, politics and society with distinguished writers and cultural commentators including Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (Independent and other publications) and Jeff Halper (Israeli Campaign Against House Demolitions).
Artistic Director Justin Butcher explained: “I visited Bethlehem for the first time last year and came away profoundly inspired by the extraordinary peace-makers I met on both sides of the divide, in particular Sami Awad of the Holy Land Trust.
“In Bethlehem, a new cultural phenomenon is springing up, which Palestinians describe as ‘Beautiful Resistance’ – in art, music, dance and drama, street theatre and comedy – expressing their determination to resist injustice and to celebrate their hope for freedom in the seeming absence of all hope. It’s my hope that the Bethlehem Unwrapped festival, with its amazing and eclectic line-up of artists and events, will give audiences here in the UK the chance to experience some of the hope of the people of Bethlehem this Christmas.”
Rector of St James’s Piccadilly, the Rev Canon Lucy Winkett, added: “St James’s Church Piccadilly is delighted to be hosting this festival. Twenty members of the church visited the Holy Land in October of this year and the positive and hopeful programme reflects the aspirations of the inspiring Palestinian and Israeli peacemakers we met there.
“At Christmas, when we will be singing ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’, we are glad to be in solidarity with the people of Bethlehem by celebrating the culture of the land that Jews, Muslims and Christians all call holy.”
All net proceeds of Bethlehem Unwrapped will be donated to Future Peacemakers Appeal, Holy Land Trust, Bethlehem (www.holylandtrust.org).
Israel began building the West Bank barrier in 2002. It aims to be a 400-mile long network of high walls, electronic fences, gates and trenches. It is the most controversial barrier because much of it is built outside Israel's 1949 Armistice (Green Line), annexing some 10 per cent of Palestinian land, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The wall cuts far into the West Bank and encompasses Israel's largest illegal settlement blocs containing hundreds of thousands of settlers. Some Israeli politicians have admitted it is less a security measure than a new political border. In 2012 Palestinian officials accused Israel of using it as a permanent border.
* More at http://bethlehem-unwrapped.org
* On Twitter: @bethlehemfest
* Video of the construction of the wall by the Rev Stephen Sizer on vimeo: http://vimeo.com/82589373