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December 27, 2013 5

Campaigns In Atlanta And London Target Israeli Policy In Bethlehem

st-james-church-wall-bethlehem

St. James Church Wall

Right in time for Christ­mas, two cam­paigns have begun that demo­nize Israeli pol­icy in the West Bank city of Beth­le­hem, the birth­place of Jesus.

In Atlanta, Geor­gia, five elec­tronic bill­boards are cur­rently on dis­play for a two week dura­tion that depict Jesus’s par­ents Mary and Joseph being unable to gain entry into Beth­le­hem in mod­ern times because of Israel’s secu­rity bar­rier on the bor­der of the West Bank (the image was cre­ated by the artist Banksy). These bill­boards are spon­sored by If Amer­i­cans Knew (IAK), a vir­u­lently anti-Israel orga­ni­za­tion that has been run­ning anti-Israel bill­boards in cities across the United States over the past year.

In Lon­don, Eng­land, St. James’s Church erected a large dis­play out­side of the church to depict the secu­rity bar­rier that sur­rounds Beth­le­hem. The church’s rev­erend, Lucy Win­kett, claimed that the dis­play, which resem­bles the secu­rity wall in Israel, was designed to show passersby “what the peo­ple of Beth­le­hem are expe­ri­enc­ing today.”

The mock secu­rity wall out­side St. James’ Church is part of a fes­ti­val called “Beth­le­hem Unwrapped,” which is being spon­sored by the Holy Land Trust, a Bethlehem-based group that advo­cates for Boy­cott, Divest­ment and Sanc­tions (BDS) cam­paigns against Israel. The fes­ti­val will take place in Lon­don from Decem­ber 23, 2013 until Jan­u­ary 5, 2014. It will fea­ture, among other pro­grams, a com­edy show called “Stand Up Against the Wall,” a “Beth­le­hem Christ­mas din­ner,” and a debate titled “Both sides of the Bar­rier – Sep­a­ra­tion or Secu­rity?” which will fea­ture Jeff Halper, the founder of the Israeli Com­mit­tee Against House Demo­li­tions; Leila San­sour, a res­i­dent of Beth­le­hem; Yif­tah Curiel, the Pub­lic Affairs spokesman at the Embassy of Israel in Lon­don; and Alan John­son, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive from the Britain Israel Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Research Centre.

Both the bill­board and mock wall dis­play delib­er­ately fail to account for Israel’s legit­i­mate secu­rity con­cerns. While IAK claims that their bill­boards, “will be seen an esti­mated 4 mil­lion times,” those who view the bill­boards will not receive any infor­ma­tion about why the secu­rity bar­rier was built and what it has done to thwart ter­ror­ist attacks.

Indeed, Israel’s secu­rity bar­rier was built as a defen­sive mea­sure that was first approved by the Israeli gov­ern­ment in 2002 to pre­vent Pales­tin­ian ter­ror­ists from reach­ing their civil­ian tar­gets inside Israel. Since it was built, there has been a sharp decrease in Pales­tin­ian ter­ror­ism – not because there have been no attempted attacks, but because the secu­rity bar­rier has impeded ter­ror­ists from reach­ing Israeli cities, or has forced them to take more cir­cuitous routes, lead­ing to their capture.

Although both cam­paigns seek to rein­force the point that Beth­le­hem has become inac­ces­si­ble because of the wall, thou­sands of Chris­t­ian pil­grims from around the world visit Beth­le­hem for Christ­mas Eve cel­e­bra­tions every year. This year was no excep­tion, accord­ing to news reports, the turnout was “the high­est in years.”

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