1. Why were you compelled to make this film?
I find this question difficult to answer. On one hand, the simple way to answer it would be to say: I come from Bethlehem and when Israel started building a wall that was sure to change the face of the city and the life of its communities, possibly for ever, I couldn't ignore what was happening. I am a film maker. The least I could do is to document what was unfolding in front of my eyes and create a record of this rather dark historic event. I wanted to give people a broad insight into the situation and compel them to action. This is on one hand but then we, humans, we also have other forces that are always at work within us. In my case it was my father. My father was a very big personailty. He took part in the founding of Bethlehem University and dedicated his life to the town. My father died suddenly in 1996 and I never came to terms with it. I left Bethlehem as a teenager thinking it was too small and provincial. In a way, you could say I rebelled but, then, most rebels, at some point, go back home, and when they do, they do it with the same intensity they did it when they left so maybe I am no different. Bethlehem separated me from my father but Bethlehem was also the force that brought me closer to him when he was no longer there.
2. What is the situation in Bethlehem like today?
Bethlehem is a lucky town. It has a wonderful weather, a gentle culture and an abundance of spectacular local produce which was celebrated in the accounts of travellers throughout the ages. Bethlehem was often referred to as a city surrounded by forests of olive trees, fig trees and grapes. Emerging on the international scene as the site of Christ's nativity, gave the town an even greater confidence and exposure and allowed it to build unparalleled links with the outside world as well as a global outlook. After all, Bethlehem is one of the places that experienced tourism before the word was even invented. But, today, politically speaking, Bethlehem sits on a seismic plateau. The situation is never stable and it threatens to erupt any time simply because the status quo is not sustainable. In simple terms, we are living under a military occupation that perpetually demonstrates to us that it has no respect for our lives and aspirations, our heritage or our well being. The wall built today around and inside Bethlehem is a stark expression of this state of affairs where one people have shown total disregard to the life of another. With the wall, Bethlehem has lost most of its arable lands, many landmarks and was dramatically separated from Jerusalem- a link that is essential to the lives of Palestinian communities in both these cities. Bethlehem is reduced to less than 13% of its original territory.
3. Why is it important for the world to know and understand what is happening in the Palestinian Territories?
Because it is an injustice that cannot go on. Because we can do better. Because it is a problem that can be resolved with a little push from the international community. Because our failure or success in resolving this will have implications for the lives of millions of people as well as the foundation of international law. Because I believe Bethlehem specifically and Palestine as a whole provide an important model for a successful pluralist society in a very troubled region that is desperate for such models.
4. What was the biggest challenge for you in making this film?
Access was definitely a great problem as the Israeli army would close off most areas where they would be carrying out the building of the wall or related activity such as house demolitions. I had my tapes confiscated by the army on two occasions. Secondly- funding, it is difficult to raise funds for any independent film maker. It is a well known fact. But, wait until you come from a place like Palestine. It is close to impossible. Having said this, I am particularly grateful to D&P for supporting the project when it was still a raw idea. These are the most important partners and their support was crucial to the project.
5. What do you think is the future for the Palestinian Territories?
Currently the future is very hazy. We are emerging from a very bad place into the unknown. But, we remain hopeful and, as long as we are, the work continues. It would be very depressing to think that the wall in Bethlehem in not a temporary atrocity. I just hope it falls in my lifetime.
6. How can people help?
I believe my film offers people an intimate look inside Bethlehem, a city whose future will have an enormous influence on the cause of peace. I invite everyone to watch it and to join our campaign by becoming a citizen of Bethlehem. You can become a citizen of Bethlehem by visiting our official website at www.openbethlehem.org
See the film, tell your friends and tell your representatives that you want them to act with urgency to help us save one of Middle East's most important cities. Tell them that you care and that they should care too. Finally, if you can, make sure to visit. Nothing compares to seeing it with your own eyes. I promise that Bethlehem will receive you with open arms and that the real Bethlehem is just as magical as the legendary place you have grown to like through scenes of the Nativity and the Christmas carols.