It is an accepted outcome that if one stands up and is counted in demanding the relief and release of Palestinian peoples of Gaza and the West Bank and within Israel by an end to Israel’s occupation policies in violation of international law and also to its internal racial discrimination against Palestinians living within Israel, one can provoke an amazing deluge of complaints of vim, vigour and oftentimes vitriol.
There are religious groups within the Zionist movement, and probably an even higher proportion among adherents of Christian Zionism, who cannot relate the objective facts of the occupation to a total disregard of the inheritance common to Judaism and Christianity of God’s covenant to Moses and the Israelites and His utterances through the prophets for protection of the vulnerable and “those aliens living among you”.
In central London, St James Church Council, following much consideration under the pastoral and spiritual guidance of their Rector Revd Lucy Winkett, heard and decided to respond to the plight of Palestinians, and the pleas of their Christian minority for advocacy and action. They agreed to host a festival called Bethlehem Unwrapped.
In 2009, the indigenous Palestinian Christian community in the Holy Land published the document Kairos Palestine: A Moment of Truth – A word of faith, hope, and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering. It had a historical precedent in the 1985 Kairos Document by black South African Christians calling for an end to Apartheid.
Palestinian Christians have felt let down by the Western (and Southern and Eastern) Churches in their lack of prophetic voices, particularly at the institutional level, over so many years against the struggles of the hard-pressed Church in Israel and Palestine. The South African churches, including from those who serve the Afrikaans community, are an exception. Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu and others have voiced their dismay to see their own Apartheid system reflected, some voices have declared in a more severe form, in Palestine-Israel.
Too often, they see Christian pilgrimage groups from Europe, the Americas, and Africa visiting the major holy sites but not in any way engaging with the “Living Stones” (the local Christians) or seeking to understand their situation. Tour coaches usually stay no more than two hours and are whisked in and out through the Separation Wall at the main Bethlehem checkpoint on the road from Jerusalem, with its occupants barely aware of the Wall and not seeing the lines of inhabitants of the town queuing to enter or leave through fenced sheds looking not unlike those for a sheep dip. Ironic, this comparison, in a “little town” for ever associated in idyllic hymns and kitsch Christmas art with clean-living, clean-robed shepherds and pristine sheep – ne’er a black one among them! Shepherds, of course, lived very much on the social margins in 0 A.D., which was the real point of the gospel account.
To respond to their continued cry from the heart, the vision of the Bethlehem Unwrapped festival came into being, conceived and driven forward by Creative Director Justin Butcher.
The festival and its striking replica of the contemporary Separation Wall at Bethlehem was a success, making a hard-hitting impression on thousands of passers-by, at its location just off Piccadilly Circus. The evening events were almost all sell-outs. A lot of money was raised for The Holy Land Trust, a Palestinian trust working in Bethlehem for justice and peace.
ICAHD UK is privileged to have played its part in the festival and is grateful for the principled courage and grace of St James Church in hosting this important event, which has undoubtedly shown many people the importance of what is fundamental and alterable injustice about life for the people of Bethlehem today.
But for Revd Lucy Winkett and St James Church Council, there has been the predictable backlash and things have not been easy before or since the festival. Please show your support for them and for the importance of what they have achieved by writing to the Bishop of London and to the Revd Lucy and the Church Council. Details and sample letter here, by Revd Stephen Sizer, another Anglican priest and an authority on Christian Zionism.