Too many people have an idealized picture in their head of what Bethlehem looks like today, but St. James Church in central London aims to change that with an 8 meter temporary tall wall that obscures the church’s façade.
A focal point of the Bethlehem Unwrapped Festival that officially kicks off on 29 December, 2013, the wall was built to create solidarity with the Palestinian people who live in Bethlehem and also to give Londoners a sense of what the traditional birthplace of Jesus is really like today.
“We’ve spend eight months planning to build this replica of the separation wall in Palestine and eight days,” said festival artistic director Justin Butcher in the following YouTube video. “It’s taken a lot of scaffolding and a lot of hard work… and today’s it’s gone up and we’ve done it.”
Constructed out of long, thin prefabricated concrete slabs, the wall blocks St. James Church from view, a reality organizers say people living in Bethlehem cope with on a daily basis.
But even as Palestinians face this massive obstruction and other difficulties in their lives, most people continue to think of the Bethlehem depicted in the bible – a myth perpetuated in churches and Christian schools throughout the globe.
“We’re unwrapping the traditional, Victorian, sentimental images of Christmas and showing this is what Bethlehem today looks like – an eight-meter high concrete separation wall surrounding it,” says Butcher.
“St. James’s Church Piccadilly is delighted to be hosting this festival…, says Lucy Winkett, the church’s Rector. “At Christmas, when 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.”
Unveiled just two days before Christmas, the wall will be up until 5 January, 2014, and Winkett urges Londoners to come for a visit.
Rather than create further divisions with this controversial temporary construction however, the collaborators behind the project, including Amos Trust, Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem, Interpal, ICAHD UK, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, P21 Gallery,Tipping Point North South, War on Want and Zaytoun CIC, hope to create a warm and welcome space complete with good music, comedy, food and films.
“The most unhelpful thing you can do is be pro one side; it just adds to the conflict,” says Sami Awad, Director of Holy Land Trust. “We have to not only understand those people who are oppressing us, but try to walk in their shoes, and ultimately to really engage with what it means to love our enemies.”
People are encouraged to write personal messages of solidarity on the separation wall before it is disassembled.