Documentary supported by Development and Peace expresses solidarity with the people of Palestine

November 29, 2016

November 29th is International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People and to mark this day, Development and Peace is highlighting the devastating effects of the construction of a separation wall by Israel on the city of Bethlehem. Despite, its cultural, historical and religious significance, the city and its people have suffered immensely from the construction of the wall. It has led to what the International Criminal Court considers serious violations of human rights.

In solidarity with the people of the Palestinian Territories, Development and Peace supported the production of the documentary Open Bethlehem, which shows the impacts of the wall, as told from the viewpoint of filmmaker Leila Sansour, a native of Bethlehem who returns to her beloved city after several years to find it sadly transformed by the separation wall.

 filmmaker Leila Sansour
 documentary Open Bethlehem

You can learn more about the documentary and consult an accompanying guide we have developed here.

Here is an interview with the filmmaker and her perspective on the situation in her homeland.

The simple way to answer would be to say: I come from Bethlehem and when Israel started building a wall that would undoubtedly, change the face of the city and the life of its communities, possibly for ever, I couldn't ignore what was happening. I am a filmmaker. The least, I could do was to document what was unfolding in front of my eyes and create a record of this rather dark historic event. I wanted to give people abroad insight into the situation and compel them to action. But then we, as humans, also have other forces that are always at work within us. In my case it was my father. My father was a very big personality. He took part in the founding of Bethlehem University and dedicated his life to the town. He died suddenly in 1996 and I never came to terms with that. I left Bethlehem as a teenager thinking it was too small and provincial. In a way, I rebelled, but then, at some point, most rebels go back home, and when they do, they do it with the same intensity as when they left. So maybe I am no different. Bethlehem separated me from my father, but Bethlehem was also the force that brought me closer to him when he was no longer there. 
Bethlehem is a blessed city. It has a wonderful weather, a gentle culture and an abundance of spectacular local produce. Its riches have been celebrated in the accounts of travelers throughout the ages. Bethlehem was often referred to as a city surrounded by forests of olive and fig trees, and grape vines. As the site of Christ's birth, the town had tremendous exposure, which allowed it to build unparalleled links with the outside world and to have a global outlook. After all, Bethlehem experienced tourism before the word was even invented! But, today, politically speaking, Bethlehem sits on a seismic plate. The situation is never stable and it threatens to erupt at any moment because the status quo is not sustainable. In simple terms, we are living under a military occupation that perpetually demonstrates to us that there is no respect for our lives and aspirations, our heritage or our wellbeing. The wall built today around and inside Bethlehem is a stark expression of this state of affairs. With the wall, Bethlehem has lost most of its arable lands, many landmarks and was dramatically separated from Jerusalem- a link that is essential to the lives of Palestinian communities in both cities. Bethlehem has been reduced to less than 13% of its original territory.
Because it is an injustice that cannot go on. Because we can do better. Because it is a problem that can be resolved with a little push from the international community. Because our failure or success in resolving this conflict will have implications for the lives of millions of people, as well as the foundation of international law. Because I believe Bethlehem specifically, and Palestine as a whole, provides an important model for a successful pluralist society in a very troubled region that is desperate for such models. 
Access was definitely a problem, as the Israeli army would close off most areas where they would be carrying out the building of the wall or related activities, such as the demolition of houses. I had my tapes confiscated by the army on two occasions. Secondly, finding funding. It is difficult to raise funds for any independent filmmaker, but wait until you come from a place like Palestine! It is close to impossible. I am particularly grateful to Development and Peace for supporting this film when it was still a raw idea. It is an important partner and its support was crucial to the project.
Currently, the future is very hazy. We are emerging from a very bad situation into the unknown. But, we remain hopeful, and as long as we are here, the work continues. It would be very depressing to think that the wall in Bethlehem is more than just a temporary atrocity. I just hope it comes down in my lifetime.
We are inviting all Canadians to join our campaign for Bethlehem to return being the open city it once was by becoming symbolic citizens of the city. You can do so by visiting our website. Watch the film and tell your friends so that they can learn about our situation and communicate this to their representatives, and, if you can, make sure to visit. Nothing compares to seeing Bethlehem with your own eyes!