It is difficult to make a documentary about a military conflict that has raged for centuries, nay, millennia, between the Jews and Christians in the Holy Land. Who is right, who is wrong, who came first and who will be the last to leave? A documentarian can only present a glimpse, a split second in the history of a fraction of the world.
However, it is sometimes difficult to remain objective when presented with that sliver of reality. An oppressed population’s lives decimated by invading forces marching forward seemingly without humanity, treating their fellow man worse than cattle.
The Israeli army destroying homes, livelihoods, and ancient orchards without consequence, all to build an 8m high wall through Bethlehem that will enclose the Palestinian people forever, with the excuse of separating the Israelis from those they call terrorists.
It looks like something from a post apocalyptic dystopian future sci-fi movie, but it is not. It is reality.
Film-maker Leila Sansour returns to the city of her childhood, remembering it like a fairytale only to be confronted with this reality. Her father, Professor Sansour, had once given her a film camera when she was a young girl and when she thought that someone should do something about this tragedy she knew what her father would have said: “Why someone else, why not you?” So, armed with a camera and small crew a spark of hope was born, to bring down the wall and regenerate Bethlehem. The “Open Bethlehem” tourism project was born.
As the project’s plans get underway tension in the city mounts; the advancing wall swallows everything in its path. It fuels the urgency, though the counter-project was already “creating a buzz” with the international press.
Open Bethlehem takes us around sites as old as 1,500 years and as famous as Christ’s nativity, but it is painful to watch as concrete twice as high as Berlin’s wall carves out sections of ancient Bethlehem’s tourist sites allowing only Jews to visit.
The city is now sealed, a military permit is all that will allow passage and only 3,200 of those are issued each day for a city of 170,000. The wall is monstrous, blocking out everything, its grey featureless structure only broken by pinnacle-like watchtowers and the occasional checkpoint. Palestinians are now full time prisoners. It seems unimaginable that even Israelis want to live with such a thing in their backyard.
The race against time is on. How is Leila going to accomplish her task? In the land of spiritual revelation she has an epiphany that could resurrect the Holy Land and save Bethlehem from certain destruction.
A remarkable, touching film.
Director: Leila Sansour
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Release date: Dec. 5 (UK)
5 stars out of 5