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Saturday, October 22, 2016
Text: Leila Sansour at launch of Bethlehem passport campaign
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¬†Leila Sansour, chief executive of the Open Bethlehem campaign made the following speech at the Foreign Press Association in London for the launch of the Bethlehem passport. It is unprecedented for a city to issue its own passport. It could be seen as arrogance: why should a small city assume one of the central roles of a nation? The reason is simple: we have been surrounded by a wall, but we refuse to live in its shadow. The passport is a declaration of self-determination. We are telling the world that our city is open to anyone who wishes to come and live with us. It is issued on behalf of the citizens of Bethlehem, in consultation with the office of the Mayor and with the full support of the Palestinian Authority, and our President Mahmoud Abbas. The images of Palestine that flash around the world are not ones we recognise. Our only choice, today, is to take control of our own message. Behind the wall, Bethlehem is a diverse and open society. Our lives are sustained by our hope for Palestinian nationhood, but it is a very different kind of nationalism to the ones that emerged in Europe in the 19th and 20th Century, with their emphasis on religion, language or race. We are fighting for an open society, where people can choose where they live in freedom. Bethlehem has survived as a multi-faith, multi-cultural city, when other cities have long since been erased through ethnic cleansing and population swaps. Think of the old Alexandria. Or Salonika, or Constantinople. So many Mediterranean cities have been victims of rigid nationalisms. Bethlehem is almost alone ≠ and soon Bethlehem, too, may be history. Bethlehem is in risk of losing its unique place as the anchor of the Christian community in Palestine. Almost half of Palestinian Christians live in our city. If Christianity cannot survive in the birthplace of Christ, the community loses its centre and has little chance of surviving in the rest of Palestine. If Christianity disappears in the Holy Land with its 2000 years uninterrupted tradition, it has little chance of surviving in the rest of the Middle East: in Iraq, in Syria, Egypt, Israel or Turkey. The consequences would be grave, feeding the ground for sectarian conflicts across the world for centuries to come. Our city has survived for 4000 years but, today, it may be gathering its last energy. This is why we cannot do it alone. The Passport is open to anyone who makes a lasting commitment to the survival of our city. Bethlehem has been failed by world governments, but it can be helped by individuals. Through Open Bethlehem, we are inviting people to bring new energy to our city. With your help, we can keep Bethlehem open against all odds. If you are an investor, a festival promoter, a tour operator, a writer, an artist bring your projects to our city and treat is as your own. As the Mayor said, on a day like today, the Berlin wall fell. One day the wall around Bethlehem will also fall. By celebrating life with us, you can help us bring this day closer. I want to end by quoting from our passport: "In that the bearer of this passport is a citizen of Bethlehem; that they recognise this ancient city provides a light to the world, and to all people who uphold the values of a just and open society; that they will remain a true friend to Bethlehem through its imprisonment we ask you to respect the bearer of this passport and to let them pass freely." For more information see:
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