Leila Sansour’s documentary 'Open Bethlehem' has led to an ongoing campaign for peace. Photo courtesy Open Bethlehem

Documentary 'Open Bethlehem' turns into mission for peace

By  Alister Vaz, Youth Speak News
  • May 12, 2017

Finding peace in the birthplace of Christ has been an elusive mission, but one that Leila Sansour has taken on with determined vigour through her documentary film Open Bethlehem.

The film, originally released in 2014, follows Sansour in her campaign to stop the building of a wall which Israel considers essential for protection from terrorists and Palestine says is meant to isolate its citizens. Whatever the viewpoint, what Sansour saw was her hometown suffering immensely because of the wall construction.

The wall does not run on the country border, but instead runs through many cities occupied by Palestinians, allowing people from Israel to settle the land. This resulted in many Palestinian families being separated and people who had previously worked on the other side of the wall losing their jobs.

During seven years of filming, Sansour, a Catholic who lived in Palestine as a young child, explored her roots and compared the present-day Bethlehem to what the city used to be as a multi-faith community. What started as a documentary became a campaign, which has continued since the original release.

“I feel that it is important to hold screenings like this one to build public awareness,” said Amanda Cacilhas, the Youth Ambassador for Development and Peace Toronto, which hosted a screening at the Koffler House in Toronto on May 4. “Bethlehem is used as a metaphor in the film to represent what’s happening in Palestine. Our goal is to get people to support the mission, to open Bethlehem.”

In order for Sansour to continue her mission, financial support was needed, which led to the creation of the Bethlehem Passport. It is given to people who donate money, organize fundraisers or find other ways to spread the message of peace. Among the many who have earned their passports are Pope Benedict XVI, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu.

“The main goal of this is to bring down the wall,” Waël Kabbani, the executive producer of the film explained in a question-and-answer session following the screening.

“We went around asking questions to random people before the film and the majority of people we came across didn’t even know that Bethlehem was in Palestine,” he explained.

Kabbani likened the film to a “dialogue.”

“We’ve shown this film to Christians, Anglicans, Jews and even people of no faith,” he said. “The beauty is that everyone can relate to it. It’s not something just for Catholics.”

There are numerous screenings planned in Canada throughout the year.

For more information visit www.openbethlehem.org.

(Vaz, 19, is a first-year accounting and financial management student at University of Waterloo.)

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