Between December 23, 2013 – January 5, 2014, St James’s Church, Piccadilly, London hosted the “Bethlehem Unwrapped” Christmas Festival, featuring a full-scale 8-meter tall/30-meter long replica of Israel’s security barrier. The festival is presenting cultural events and activities on the life of Palestinians “living behind the wall.”
According to the event’s program, “All net proceeds of the Bethlehem Unwrapped festival will be donated to Amos Trust’s ‘Future Peacemakers’ Appeal, supporting the work of the Holy Land Trust, Bethlehem.” Additionally, the festival “will support Holy Land Trust’s unique work providing non-violence training for children, young people and adults.”
- Sami Awad, the founder and director of Holy Land Trust, is on record stating that non-violence is “not a substitute for the armed struggle.” This term, “armed struggle,” is a euphemism used by Palestinian terror groups and their supporters for murderous attacks on Israeli civilians.
- In 2009, Awad spoke at the National Leadership Conference for the Vineyard Church in 2009. He told the audience: “We’ve actually done training in non-violence for Hamas leaders and other militant groups as well” (emphasis added).
- Holy Land Trust also supports BDS and the Kairos Palestine document.
- Awad is quoted on the Bethlehem Unwrapped website saying, “The most unhelpful thing you can do is be pro one side; it just adds to the conflict.” Yet, the event promotes the Palestinian narrative exclusively, while ignoring Israeli perspectives.
The festival is produced in association with Amos Trust, Holy Land Trust (HLT), Interpal, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD)-UK, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, P21 Gallery, Tipping Point North South, War on Want, and Zaytoun CIC. The Bethlehem Unwrapped website gives a heartfelt thanks to “Fairtrade Parcel by Parcel wine and all our sponsors whose generous support has made Bethlehem Unwrapped possible.”
- The US Department of Treasury lists Interpal as an organization subject to Executive Order 13224, “Blocking Property and prohibiting transactions with persons who commit, threaten to commit, or support terrorism.”
- ICAHD and War on Want are both leaders of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. They both receive funding from the EU as well as other European governments. Their rhetoric includes demonizing accusations of “ethnic cleansing,” “genocide,” “collective punishment,” and “apartheid.”
- Amos Trust supports the Kairos Palestine document which, according to Amy-Jill Levine, Professor of New Testament Studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, “insists that the ‘Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God’ and condemns the ‘clear apartheid’ faced by the Palestinian people ‘for more than six decades’ – that is, since 1948 – it denies Israel both theological and political legitimacy.” Both Amos Trust and Holy Land Trust collaborate with Sabeel and ICAHD.
St James’ website states,
- “The Festival has been curated by Justin Butcher as a response to the Kairos Palestine document issued by the united Churches of the Holy Land, and is inspired by the cultural movement in Bethlehem described as ‘Beautiful Resistance.’”
- The Kairos Palestine document calls for BDS against Israel, denies the Jewish historical connection to Israel in theological terms, and blames Israel solely for the continuation of the conflict. Its purpose is to rally churches globally to support BDS, delegitimization, and demonization directed at the State of Israel.
On the Bethlehem Unwrapped website, St James Church
- “affirms its opposition to all forms of racism including anti-Semitism and supports the universal call for a just and sustainable solution for Palestinians and Israelis. St James’s Church supports the right of the State of Israel to exist with secure internationally recognized borders.”
- One of the festival’s main partners (ICAHD) does not support Israel’s right to exist within secure borders and support a one state solution: Jeff Halper, head of ICAHD, said, “I think it is impossible to have a Jewish state. I think we have to start talking about Israel and not a Jewish state.”
The festival’s schedule included an opening ceremony featuring “All They Paint is the Wall,” a children’s art exhibition from Bethlehem; a comedy show “Stand Up Against the Wall“; the film “Jeremy Hardy vs the Israeli Army“; and a panel discussion, “Both sides of the Barrier – Separation or Security?” featuring Jeff Halper.
In 2001, some 1,500 NGOs participated in the UN’s NGO Forum at the World Conference against Racism in Durban where they crafted a strategy of delegitimizing Israel as an “apartheid regime.” Among the accredited NGOs at this Durban NGO Forum were thirty-five Christian religious institutions representing a number of churches. The Bethlehem Unwrapped festival is the latest manifestation of how churches amplify and legitimize the BDS movement’s radical anti-Israel message.
BDS activists are fully aware of the role churches can and do play in amplifying and legitimizing their radical anti-Israel message. The BDS Movement’s website states:
“Religious institutions are seen in many communities as embodying important moral and ethical principles… Divestment campaigns that target companies such as Caterpillar have been initiated in a number of major Christian churches. Not only will successful divestment campaigns financially weaken the Occupation, but will raise both the public profile and legitimacy of the BDS campaign.”