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Open Bethlehem

Reports predict that if trends continue the Christian community of Bethlehem, a city that provides a model for a multi-faith Middle East, may be unsustainable within one generation. The enormous wall and ongoing Israeli settlements are strangling the city. Leila Sansour's plan to stay a year stretches to seven, and is only resolved when she realizes that, sometimes, the biggest dreams take flight from the smallest places.

OPEN BETHLEHEM is a story of a homecoming to the world's most famous little town. The film spans seven momentous years in the life of Bethlehem, revealing a city of astonishing beauty and political strife under occupation. The film draws from 700 hours of original footage and some rare archive material. In fact the making of this film has led to the creation of the largest visual archive of Bethlehem in the world and plans are currently being discussed with University College London (UCL) to turn the collection into a museum.

While telling a personal story, the film charts the creation of a campaign, named Open Bethlehem, to compel international action to bring peace to the Middle East.

'Ghetto walls are strangling Bethlehem. But this hard, vivid, and personal film shows its spirit and message can still touch the heart and renew the promise of a struggle that will not be defeated. Highly recommended for college courses focused on Arab-Israeli relations, religious freedom, or comparative ethnopolitical conflict.' Dr. Ian Lustick, Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania, Author, Unsettled States, Disputed Lands

'Open Bethlehem is a fierce and poignant plea against the incarceration of a city...[The filmmaker's] Open Bethlehem project is the kind of first step on which peace processes are built. It deserves to succeed. ' Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, Selected Film of the Week

'This inspiring film fills a gap in the literature of occupation and in the literature on women and peace-making within the context of Palestine and globally...Leila Sansour's journey is at once deeply personal and political, successfully educating and motivating us with its stunning moment-to-moment tale of creativity, vision, despair, hope, and ultimately inimitable determination of the human spirit...This film will recreate its own vision of healing with each showing.' Dr. Elise Young, Founder and Director, The Global Women's History Project, Professor of History, Westfield State University, Author, Keepers of the History: Women and the Israeli Palestinian Conflict

'This film shows the struggle of those living in the city of Bethlehem...Chronicling the efforts of a small group to forge international partnerships and solidarity with the city to help keep it alive, the documentary intersperses historical narrative of Bethlehem's history with the story of the group's travails. Open Bethlehem is an excellent complement to courses in Middle East politics, grassroots organizing, or citizen diplomacy by showing what a small group of committed individuals can accomplish in the face of tremendous odds.' Maia Hallward, Professor of Middle East Politics, Kennesaw State University, Author, Transnational Activism and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

'Absolutely essential viewing.' Douglas James Greenwood, Edinburgh Reporter

'Open Bethlehem offers unique insight into the lives and experiences of the people living in Bethlehem over the past turbulent decade...The film offers people a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by this multi-faith community whose struggles have an enormous influence on the cause of peace today.' Christian Champigny, Deputy Director of International Programs, Development and Peace

'Undeniably potent and poignant.' David Parkinson, Radio Times

'Powerful.' Cath Clarke, Time Out London

'Open Bethlehem is a non-violent attempt to save a city that belongs to many in the world. It is unconscionable that Bethlehem should be allowed to die slowly from strangulation.' Reverend Desmond Tutu, Archbishop, Educator, Civil Rights Activist, Nobel Peace Prize Awardee

'Open Bethlehem gives a realistic picture of aspects of Palestinian life under Occupation in the special circumstances of Bethlehem. This film would be useful for classes or groups with little previous knowledge of the Palestinian plight.' Paul L. Scham, Executive Director and Professor, Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies, University of Maryland, Co-President, Partners for Progressive Israel

'I strongly recommend this film. It will not just inform you about the tragedies of Bethlehem but will inspire you, by the courage of Leila and her friends, to believe in yourself and your voice and become part of this movement.' Malala Yusafzai, youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate

'Transcends politics and normal cinema.' Daoud Kuttab, Middle East Monitor

'As an Israeli Jew and a historian of the Arab-Israeli conflict, I warmly recommend this documentary to anyone interested in the Palestine question. I was moved to tears by this beautiful film.' Avi Shlaim, Author, The Iron Wall

'Open Bethlehem is an admirable project.' President Jimmy Carter

'Open Bethlehem is as much a lament for her beloved hometown, and those who live there, as it is a call for the world's attention. The result is a film of heart-rending humanity that manages, in spite of everything, to inspire hope.' Marcello Di Cintio, Author, Walls: Travels Along The Barricades

'The film and the campaign together allow people to experience the beauty of Bethlehem and the threats it faces. Thank you to all who are working on this important initiative to save a city we all love.' Dania Majid, Founder and Director, Palestine Film Festival in Toronto

'One of the most remarkable and moving documentaries I have seen about this unreported story. The tragedy of the Palestinians encapsulated in the life of one family and one town - Bethlehem.' Jon Snow, Channel 4 News (UK)


Main credits

Sansour, Leila (film director)
Sansour, Leila (film producer)
Sansour, Leila (screenwriter)

Other credits

Edited by Marianne Kuopanportti and Nidal Al Atrash; music, Florencia Di Concilio; camera, Katie Barlow [and 7 others].

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects

Citizenship and Civics
Conflict Resolution
Human Rights
International Studies
Middle Eastern Studies
Political Science
Race and Racism
War and Peace
Women's Studies


Bethlehem, the wall, Israeli settlements, Christians, multi-faith community, Leila Sansour, visual archive, University College London, Open Bethlehem campaign, Bethlehem passport, symbolic citizenship, world religions, middle east, peace settlement, Palestine, Israel, Christianity; "Open Bethlehem"; Bullfrog Films