REV GARRY ROBERTS: The reality of Bethlehem is very different

Beautiful Bethlehem is torn by political strife. Picture: Dickelbers/Wikimedia
Beautiful Bethlehem is torn by political strife. Picture: Dickelbers/Wikimedia
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I FOUND it a very moving experience to visit Israel and Palestine a couple of years ago.

I was there on pilgrimage and saw all the places that were important in Jesus’s life – Galilee, Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

At Christmas, we sing carols which mention Bethlehem as the place where Jesus was born.

The carol O Little Town of Bethlehem describes it as sleepy and calm.

And we may receive Christmas cards depicting picturesque scenes in the stable.

Of course, the reality is very different.

What I saw in Bethlehem in January 2014 was a million miles away from those lovely scenes adorning the cards on our mantlepieces.

Like the land surrounding it, Bethlehem is caught in the ongoing Israel/Palestine conflict. Today, Bethlehem sits in Palestinian territory, but is being progressively stifled by the Israeli government’s anti-terrorist barrier.

That’s why I thought we could show the inspiring film Open Bethlehem at Holy Trinity church hall from 6.45pm on December 10.

It is the personal story of Palestinian film director Leila Sansour, who returns to the town she left aged 17.

It spans several years in the life of Bethlehem, revealing a city of astonishing beauty and political strife under occupation.

It charts the creation of a campaign to compel international action to bring peace to the Middle East.

This film draws from 700 hours of original footage and some rare archive material.

Leila tries to marshall a rainbow coalition of prominent international Christians, Muslims and Jews to persuade Israel’s government to open up Jesus’s birthplace in the interests of commerce and ecumenical tourism, and let people visit the city freely.

The film has already been watched by more than 15,000 people in the UK, and Channel 4 journalist Jon Snow called it ‘one of the most remarkable and moving documentaries I have seen’.

Sir Vincent Fean, a past Consul-General of Jerusalem, will introduce the film and host a short question and answer session afterwards.

There will also be Christmas-themed Fairtrade Palestinian goods for sale.

Tickets, including light refreshments, are available in advance, at £7.50, from Holy Trinity Parish Office on 01329 232688 or office@htscf.org.uk. They are £13 on the door and all income from ticket sales will go Leila’s Open Bethlehem project.

It is being shown on Saturday, December 10, at 6.45pm for a 7pm start.

For more information go to htscf.org.uk.

Rev Garry Roberts is curate of Holy Trinity and St Columba churches, in Fareham.