London church blocked by replica of Israeli wall around Bethlehem

A church in central London unveiled an eight-meter-high replica of the Israeli-built wall that surrounds Bethlehem

Saffiya Ansari
Saffiya Ansari - Al Arabiya News
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A church in central London this week unveiled an eight-meter-high replica of the Israeli-built wall that surrounds Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank.

It is, according to the installation’s creative director, an effort to bring to London some of the reality of what it is like to live in Bethlehem in 2013.

The wall deliberately obscures the facade of the historic St. James’ Church and is part of the “Bethlehem Unwrapped” festival, set to run from Dec. 23 to Jan. 5.

The festival aims to “unwrap” the image of Bethlehem, which for many in the West is based on the “sentimental Victorian image found on Christmas cards” and perpetuated in Christmas carols, creative director of the festival, Justin Butcher, told Al Arabiya News.

“If you ‘unwrap’ all those sentimental images, what does Bethlehem today look like?” asked Butcher, “well it looks like this, it has an eight meter high concrete separation wall around it.”

The concept for the replica wall came about in 2012, when Butcher, a playwright, visited Bethlehem and the West Bank with a group of British artists.

“It was a really inspiring trip. Of course, while we encountered a lot of pain and injustice, all of us felt overwhelmingly that we came away with a feeling of great hope and inspiration,” he told Al Arabiya News.

The inspiration led to the interactive installation that is St. James Church’s replica wall. Members of the public are invited to scrawl their own messages on the wall in graffiti.

The public response has been “extremely animated,” said the Butcher, adding that “images and messages of peace and hope [have been] expressed on the wall.”

“This wall must fall,” wrote one member of the public, according to Butcher. Of course, he added, some members of the public have responded with the opposite view; “this wall saves lives,” an Orthodox-Jewish individual wrote on the wall.

Known as the Israeli West Bank barrier, the wall runs along and within the West Bank. Israel argues that the barrier is necessary to protect Israeli civilians from Palestinian political violence

Israel began building the barrier in 2002, after dozens of its citizens were killed in suicide bombings carried out during a Palestinian uprising. The barrier is planned to extend for some 790 kilometers while about 405 kilometers have been completed.

The wall “divides communities from one another and divides communities from their land,” said Butcher, espousing some Palestinian’s point of view. “It has a really devastating effect on the Palestinian economy and Palestinian communities. This is not a straight forward border divide.”

“This wall is symbolic of walls all over the world that divide and confine peoples, restricting free movement and dominating the imagination of those who live behind them,” added Reverand Lucy Winkett, rector at the church, in a released statement.

The festival, hosted by Bethlehem’s Holy Land Trust, aims to raise awareness of the divide and its effects through art, music film and comedy.

To this end, the festival features a series of events and will host British musician and composer Nigel Kennedy, who played at the BBC Proms this year, chefs Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, singer Reem Kelani and comedians Mark Steel and Jeremy Hardy among others.

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