Bethlehem is divided, literally, by a giant illegal wall of concrete dividing Palestine and Israeli areas. Leila Sansour’s documentary film melds archive footage of the city with her own personal video-journal of five years, to document the building of the wall and those affected from the perspective of the situation within. It is a moving personal account, and it is hard not to admire Sansour’s courage and persistence in bringing OPERATION BETHLEHEM to international audiences.
Two millennia after the birth of Christ, the ancient holy city of Bethlehem is being strangled by the Israeli-built West Bank Barrier wall, which imposes strict limitations on access to jobs and economy, not to mention the personal dignity of those Palestinians inside. Aside from the threat to the world heritage site, the Church of the Nativity, Sansour argues that enmeshed in concrete and barbed wire, the humanitarian situation in Bethlehem is deteriorating quickly, and will compromise the long-term welfare of those Palestinians who have not fled the city.
Sansour set out to make a film about the city of her childhood, the city from which she willingly escaped to find herself. She returned to honour the memory of her beloved father and the good works he completed in his life as a founder of the Bethlehem University.
Enmeshed in concrete and barbed wire, the humanitarian situation in Bethlehem is deteriorating.
The film is less documentary in style than diary, directed by and starring Sansour. She set out to return to Bethlehem for one year, but after four years decided she had to stay, consumed by the spirit of her father’s commitment to the city and its desperate plight.
At the heart of the film is the barrier wall itself, looming in places 8 meters high (twice the height of the Berlin wall). Like the Berlin wall, it follows a jagged path across the city, cutting through land and property in a snake-like division, with checkpoint barriers to prevent free movement outside of the confined area.
OPERATION BETHLEHEM is part of an on-going political campaign known as Open Bethlehem. It is an ambitious project which has outgrown the initial film at its centre. We follow in the film how Open Bethlehem becomes a long-term commitment, a lifestyle, a hope for resolution. Leila Sansour and Open Bethlehem work hard to raise international awareness of the crisis in Bethlehem, and also to preserve and archive footage of the ancient city.
Members of the packed audience at Cambridge Film Festival were proud to welcome Sansour to the screening and watch her work-in-progress, naturally due for final release around the most appropriate time for Bethlehem publicity – Christmas.