Open Bethlehem

Operation Bethlehem

Open Bethlehem is now completed; had its UK release in 2015; its Bethlehem Premiere in Spring 2016 and continues its journey across the globe – the Middle East, Europe, North America. For more info click here.

NB Open Bethlehem is the new release title for The Road to Bethlehem.

I am delighted that Tipping Point has become the home of my film in the UK. I couldn’t have a better partner in my journey to bring the story of Bethlehem to the world.
– Leila Sansour – Open Bethlehem

What would you do to save Bethlehem?

In 2004 director Leila Sansour set out to find the answer for herself.  Four years later, she found it.

This documentary is a personal story filmed over four critical years in the life of Bethlehem. This most famous little town also happens to be Leila Sansour’s hometown. She left it as a teenager, pledging never to return. But in 2004 she went home for Christmas. The journey changed her life.

The film is shot over four Christmases in the life of Bethlehem as, piece-by-piece, hundreds of slabs of concrete are lowered into place to build a wall that will seal the city from the outside world. The story is told through the eyes of the film’s director. It is her own very personal story.

To hear the latest news from Leila read her blog, or for a small taster of the film watch the clip below.

Raising the completion budget

Tipping Point Film Fund has helped raise funds in excess of £100,000 to support the editing and completion of the film, as well as the international outreach plan for the film.

The film mobilised a fund-raising base that raised more than £70,000 towards this final sum – from individual donations, collective group contributions, dedicated fund-raising events and appeals. Supporting donor organisations include Trocaire (Ireland), Development and Peace (Canada) CBA Dfid (UK), and most recently McCabe Educational Trust.

Leila has a proven track record as a feature documentary director – her first film was the internationally acclaimed Jeremy Hardy versus the Israeli Army.

Campaign outreach

The film is now complete. The campaign accompanying the film on its release will be a 2-3 year long international effort to engage the public and decision-makers on the critical issues affecting Bethlehem and Palestine more widely, and inspire audiences around the world to get involved and really help make a difference.

Open Bethlehem

At the heart of the film and the campaign, founded by the director herself in 2005, is Open Bethlehem, an international campaign set up to address the state of emergency in Bethlehem. It has secured widespread attention and endorsement from world figures such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter and is a campaign that will enhance the film’s international impact with the intention  of creating a positive impact for her home town.

Timescale & Events

July 2014

TPFF hosted NGO screening for organisations working in or on the Israel/Palestine issue. Hosted at Mosaic rooms.

Sept 2014

The film was previewed at the Royal Geographical Society in September 2014 at a sell-out event hosted by Melvyn Bragg.

Open Bethlehem at the Royal Geographical Society with Melvyn Bragg

Dec 2014 – and into 2015 – UK release

“One of the most remarkable and moving documentaries I have seen. The tragedy
of the Palestinians encapsulated in the life of one town, Bethlehem”
Jon Snow

Open Bethlehem was released across the UK, beginning on December 5th. It has been shown in London, Liverpool, York, Oxford, Bristol, Norwich, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness to full house audiences with enthusiastic feedback. There were great Q&As of Leila with Jeremy Hardy, Irvine Welsh, Paul Laverty, among others. TPFF hosted two sell-out screenings at the Lexi cinema and the Ritzy Picturehouse. Screenings start again in the new year. Don’t miss the chance to see this wonderful film in the cinema.

“Leila Sansour’s documentary Open Bethlehem follows her campaign to stop occupying Israeli forces encircling her hometown with a concrete wall. Sansour’s film, which follows her attempts to unite Christians, Muslims and Jews in their desire for free access to the Holy City, is the kind of art that peace processes are built on.”
Peter Bradshaw

Watch the whole Guardian’s video review here.

Bethlehem syndrome: understanding the little town of ‘Brand Holy Land’

‘We might not achieve a victory, but we at least can tell a story’

Open Bethlehem Campaign

Integral to the release is an international outreach campaign of same name. Open Bethlehem works to promote global engagement with Bethlehem as a real and contemporary city in the Middle East. It does so by supporting the distribution of communication tools about Bethlehem to boost international interest and awareness and by promoting visits to Bethlehem through established and specialized tour operators. The campaign also works to develop a network of passionate ambassadors for the city through the Bethlehem Passport Program.

More information:

More Press Articles

Leila recently wrote this article for The Elders website, ahead of the Pope’s visit, warning that the city’s tradition of peaceful coexistence is in danger of vanishing completely.

Leila Sansour writes about her and her family’s experience of life growing up under Israeli occupation and considers the impact of Palestine’s UN Bid for recognition.


‘As a child growing up in Bethlehem, I was entrusted with burning all the political books in my father’s library whenever there was an Israeli raid. Now my city is surrounded by walls and ring-fenced by more than forty Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land.’


In September 2011, as Palestine  prepared for its bid for UN recognition, Leila writes about this hugely significant step.   ‘The Palestinian UN bid – an uncharted territory.  Is the risk going to the UN? Or is the greater risk doing it half- heartedly? Read it here.

TV and Radio

Renowned  “60 Minutes”  series on US network CBS report on Christian Palestinians

And for US faith group audiences,  here are some syndicated radio reports about The Holy Land

Survey: Americans back Bethlehem but not sure where it is

Early on, as Leila and her team started making the documentary, they decided to commission a nationwide survey in the United States about American perceptions of Bethlehem. The findings where stunning and in total contrast to another survey we commissioned in Bethlehem at the same time.

The survey, carried out by top US political pollsters Zogby International, showed that only 15 percent of Americans realized that the biblical Bethlehem is a Palestinian city and even fewer still guessed that its inhabitants were a mix of Christians and Muslims or that Bethlehem was located in the West Bank. 15000 Americans were canvassed.

The Zogby survey showed strong support for the town in the US, where 65.5% of the population wanted the UN to list it as a world heritage site. It is worth mentioning that Bethlehem was finally listed as a world heritage site only in 2012.

The film crew also conducted 150 interviews in the streets of London at the same time producing a humorous montage of people’s perceptions. One woman said: “I don’t know where it is but I strongly believe the men there must be very attractive”. The clip did not make it into the film but it will be part of our press kit and promotional film take outs.

To read more about the survey

The Power of Us

Developed by TPFF with support from The co-operative

The Power of Us, a new film about co-operation, is fully developed and seeking production funding.

Co-operation is in our DNA – from the personal to the political, from the social to the economic. The fruits of this human endeavour  is all around us to see – and not least in the global economy where co-ops have a turnover of $1.1 trillion, represent 800m members securing the livelihoods of 3bn people. (UK Co-operative Economy, Co-ops UK 2011)

Picking up the baton of the UN Year of Co-operation, The Power of Us will be a film to shine a very bright spotlight on a global movement that has its roots in the UK and will initiate an urgent and timely global conversation about the power and possibility of cooperation.

The story

There is a quiet revolution taking place across the world, right here, right now. Sometimes it’s hidden and often it’s missed by the global media. But it’s there – a low-level rumbling, motivated by the financial crisis, bolstered by the Arab Spring and global protest movements; and fueled by a general sense that something has to change.

The Financial Crisis exposed many things. One was that our economic model is fragile. Another is that the way the majority of people choose to live is not the only way. When the global economy went into free-fall, people started to look around and ask – can we stop it happening again? Is there an alternative? But in fact, there were people are already out there, living the alternative. These groups of individuals were more than surviving the crash, they were often immune from it. And these people who have chosen a different model are not just in Wales or California: they are all over the world. These are the stories at the heart of this film.

The film will show that beyond the brutal individualism of our world today lies a thrilling – and viable – future alternative. An alternative that has already been put into practice across the world for more than 150 years and has been flourishing in recent times. It evokes a future, which could bring about a radical shift in human values and happiness. A future which could result in a more stable economic model, more benign business processes, smarter technology, more meaningful government, leveled inequality, reduced crime. A future whose potential is infinite.

Propelling the visibility of the co-operative movement ~ where-ever it is ~ to the forefront of global public attention

It’s safe to say that  the co-op movement as a whole – its principles, reach and success – is far from being as prominent or as widely appreciated as it deserves to be. The Power of Us intends to build on the success of the UN Year of Co-operation by delivering a film of quality and impact that will reach audiences, media and decision-makers around the world in order to raise the level of awareness and debate about co-operation. In other words,  the power of ‘us’….

Our ambitions for the film

  • have a tagible, positive, economic impact on the co-op economy
  • draw a whole new generation to the co-operative vision and movement
  • empower existing co-ops to use the film as a way to take their message to new members.

And you can help us achieve this!

Crowdfunding campaign

Reflecting the film’s international content, we will be launching a major global crowd-funding campaign for The Power of Us.

In readiness for this, we’re putting the word out and developing our co-op partnerships around the world as we invite the international co-op movement – from the smallest to the largest co-operatives– to be involved in this fundraising campaign.

The Power of Us can take up the baton of the UN Year of Co-operation, and play an important  role for the movement in the coming decade.

Background on the co-operative movement

Proof - Co-ops do it better

Values and principles that underpin much of what we cherish in our day to day human relationships also are embedded in the ethos of co-operation and the co-operative movement. Values that are being re-discovered as essential to a fully rounded (global) society.

Such values and principles have been central to the co-operative movement  for more that 165 years – and then as now, it was forward-looking and standard setting.

A century before the application of ethical labour standards were main-streamed into the consumer conscience of today, the co-operative wholesale (CWS) movement had adopted a ‘no sweat’ principle to the production of its garments. (See image – from Wheatsheaf Magazine 1899. Thanks to the National Co-operative Archive).

This is a truly global movement founded on the principles first laid down by the Rochdale Pioneers in 1844. Today, the International Co-operative Alliance (founded in 1895) has 222 member organisations from 85 countries active in all sectors of the global economy. Together these co-operatives represent more than 800 million individuals worldwide.

For More Information:-

Christmas in Bethlehem

Christmas in Bethlehem

Tipping Point Film Fund supported film-maker Leila in BethlehemLeila Sansour sends you a Christmas message.

Christmas in Bethlehem is a time for tradition, though some traditions are newer than others. Over the last decade the regular PR battle over the city has become a staple part of the Christmas experience. Trails of reporters arrive as early as the beginning of November to scout locations. Their stories follow what has already become a seasonal format. The cameramen shoot pictures of the wall painting the grim reality of Bethlehem while reporters recite figures showing the decline of the local Christian population and the collapse of the tourist economy.

In the five years that I have served as the director of Open Bethlehem, I have been interviewed by everyone from national television stations to phone-in radio to student magazines. One of the most demanding and unpleasant parts of my job is dealing with those journalists who arrive with an all too familiar agenda to highlight Christian-Muslim discord. Bethlehem’s story is twisted to make communal strife the key factor in Bethlehem’s tragic story while downplaying the brutal realities of life under occupation. I have slowly learnt to recognise the journalists with a guilty conscience. The majority of them appear to recognise that they have not come to investigate. All they need is a quote from a random Christian willing to vent about a dispute they have with a Muslim neighbour. Once the reporters have got their sound-bite, they are gone. In a city that has been turned into a prison town and is dominated by so much tension this is not difficult to obtain. What is worrying about these phenomena is the energy that hostile news media put into turning Bethlehem’s story upside down. They have grasped the importance of our city in the seasonal PR battle better than our friends, and they have mobilised effectively to ensure that the truth remains hidden.

The reality on the ground, for anyone who cares to visit and look around, reveals a completely different story. The series of Israeli invasions into Bethlehem that began in November 2001 and continued throughout 2002 brought about the complete economic collapse of a city whose industry depends largely on tourism. 62% of Bethlehem’s population are dependent on the tourist sector. The wall which isolates Bethlehem from the outside world and from its sister city Jerusalem has hastened the decline. A UN report called ‘The Changing Face of Bethlehem’, published in 2004, predicts a grim future for Bethlehem, mentioning, of course, the dwindling Christian community which now numbers 30% of the population. 10% of Bethlehem’s Christians have left the city in the last six years alone.

Our own Open Bethlehem survey of 2006 shows that Christians have been the most affected by the construction of the wall since land ownership was concentrated in their hands, as Bethlehem’s oldest residents. The vast amount of land confiscated to build the wall has impoverished this community. Christians have also been in a better position to benefit from religious tourism, an industry which relies on an infrastructure shared between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The separation of these cities has devastated Bethlehem-based companies which have offices in Jerusalem, or long-standing contracts with bus companies and tour operators. The fate of the tourism industry is just one example of the mutual interdependence of these two cities. Their ties go back centuries, creating a communal and economic infrastructure that means the cities cannot survive if they are forcibly separated.

It is the cumulative weight of the occupation that hits one so forcibly in Bethlehem. The social and political damage that the occupation is doing to the region and to the Middle East as a whole stares one in the face in my hometown. This is why Bethlehem is so important in the jigsaw of telling the story of Palestine and, more importantly, in winning friends. A tour of Bethlehem proves that Israeli occupation is a government-driven project aimed at seizing and annexing Palestinian land. The city’s proximity to Jerusalem and the strategic value of its water resources means that Bethlehem has always been coveted by Israel. As a result, settlements have been built with much greater intensity in this area than elsewhere.

Bethlehem’s compact geography reveals at a glance the extent and the appetite of the settlement project. Today Bethlehem is surrounded by more than twenty well-developed settlements. In a city ringed by hills, the settlements are for ever in one’s eye-line. They are designed to fence in the city, physically separating the city from its agriculture villages, neighbouring towns and, once again, from Jerusalem. When plans are approved for new units, Bethlehem wakes to the sound of drills and bulldozers echoing off the hills. I am particularly aware of this because I have combined work at Open Bethlehem with making a film about the city and the sound on my tapes is sometimes deafening. Once the outer walls of the housing units are thrown up, construction abruptly halts. Har Homa, the closest settlement to Bethlehem whose expansion seals the last remaining corridor between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, has been staring over Bethlehem with its unglazed windows for the past ten years. It is a settlement without settlers, built not to satisfy demand but to seize local land. Where it stood, there was once a tranquil pine forest.

Of course all other faces of the occupation are present here, too. The collapse of the economy means that many Bethlehemites can only make a living as cheap labourers in Israel. The Israeli military authorities have placed a ceiling on work permits, allowing 2000 people from a district of 175,000 to travel to Jerusalem each day. We can leave only from one exit and the queue of two thousand men stretches several hundred metres by opening time at 5.00 am. Those with medical permits also have to wait in line. Recently, the behaviour of Israeli soldiers has been getting uglier and their mood angrier which I believe can be attributed to their sense that the world is growing condemnatory of their government’s actions. Permits are easier to obtain for those working on the settlements that surround Bethlehem. Israeli construction companies obtain permits directly from the military for the 3000 locals desperate enough to work for below the Israeli minimum wage, building settlements on land confiscated from their own community.

Bethlehem is suffering like all Palestinian towns but its tragedy is uniquely visible. A visit to Bethlehem dispels all distractions with regards to the nature of the occupation and makes it very clear that East Jerusalem is key in any peace deal for a healthy future Palestinian state. The impact of the city’s experience is all the more powerful because Bethlehem’s heritage is a global heritage. The damage wrought upon the city – on its holy places, its physical geography and its sites of special archaeological interest – is felt by many around the world as a personal affront. Whether one believes that Christ is the Son of God or a beloved prophet, or simply the reason that we exchange gifts at Christmas, the ties that bind the world to Bethlehem are obvious and immediate.

This is the most famous little town on earth. The name Bethlehem transcends all of the unsavoury stereotypes that colour the image of Palestine. If my five years as the director of Open Bethlehem have taught me anything, it is that Bethlehem unlocks doors and opens ears. We do not need to beg for a hearing when we speak of Bethlehem: the world actually wants to know. Too often, however, our friends around the world, either underestimate its power or are simply too timid to focus on a story that resonates so strongly with our childhood hopes for Christmas. Israel’s supporters are not so delicate. Each Christmas, as the spotlight turns to Bethlehem they seek to change the story.

As we again approach Christmas, let us remember that day, many years ago, when a star shone over my city to mark a new message of peace and goodwill to all men. This message still reverberates today. No one leaves Bethlehem without seeing the urgent necessity of ending the occupation and seeing justice for the Palestinian people. Our task is to do everything we can to hasten that day. Too often, when we campaign for Palestine, we waste our limited resources on issues that the majority of people have grown tired of hearing about. The result is that we spend our efforts breaking down closed doors. When we focus our efforts on Bethlehem we find a willing audience. So this Christmas I ask you to think about how we can make the star of Bethlehem shine brighter. Every local paper, every newsletter or union magazine, every radio station or television channel, is more than happy to discuss Bethlehem at Christmas. It can be particularly effective to privately sponsor journeys to Bethlehem for local opinion-formers who will be invited to talk to the media on their return (vicars, councillors, union leaders, journalists, local dignitaries). Money and time is precious: find a Bethlehem project, back it and make sure everyone knows what you have done. Christmas is the one moment that the world comes to ask Palestinians for their story, we cannot afford to waste it.

For information on Leila’s film project Road to Bethlehem.

For donations to the Open Bethlehem campaign visit:

Leila Sansour, founding member of Open Bethlehem
Christmas in Bethlehem 2009

The Road to Bethlehem receives more funding

Development and PeaceWe are delighted that Canadian development agency Development and Peace/Caritas Canada has shown it’s support with a grant of $20,000 Canadian towards the finishing fund for The Road to Bethlehem.

We are looking forward to working with them, and other agencies, on the outreach campaign for the film, including its partner organisation Trócaire, who has already pledged its support to the film.

The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace is a democratic movement for international solidarity, supporting partners in the Global South in the pursuit of alternatives to unjust social, political and economic structures. It educates the Canadian population about the causes of impoverishment of peoples; mobilizes actions for change; and in the struggle for human dignity, Development and Peace associates with social change groups in the North and South.

Development & PeaceAs an organisation working to improve the lives of all human communities in a lasting way, in the Palestinian Territories Development and Peace assists Caritas Jerusalem in relieving people’s hardship and the Society of Saint Yves in defending the human rights of those most in need of help.

  • To find out more about the film and how it’s developing read on here.
  • Donate to help Tipping Point Film Fund gather together the final money to make this film a reality.

Road to Bethlehem secures more funding

Trocaire We are delighted that Irish development agency Trócaire has shown it’s support with a grant of 7,500 EURO towards the finishing fund for Road to Bethlehem. We are looking forward to working with them, and other agencies, on the outreach campaign for the film. As a faith-based organisation Trócaire is united with similar organisations across the world through CIDSE (International Cooperation for Development and Solidarity).

Other recent funders to come on board include CBA DfID Broadcast Media Scheme, which is supporting the film with a grant award of £10,000. The CBA-DFID Broadcast Media Scheme was established in 2001. The CBA (Commonwealth Broadcasting Association) has funding from DFID (the UK Government Department for International Development) to manage the scheme which is editorially independent.  The objective of the scheme is to improve UK  public understanding and awareness of the developing world via the mainstream broadcast media.


The effective outreach of the film is central to our plans. Leila – who has many years experience campaigning on the issues concerning her country –  was recently asked by the Carter Center to travel to Atlanta to make an Open Bethlehem presentation at a conference designed to bring faith agencies together around a new push for the US to play a more constructive role in its policy-making toward Israel/Palestine. It was a hugely successful event in the lead up to President Obama’s first meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his first trip to the Middle East.


Tipping Point Film Fund will be profiling Road to Bethlehem at this year’s Greenbelt Festival – the main focus of the festival this year is on Palestine. Tipping Point Film Fund will be unveiling the ‘world’s smallest cinema’ at the festival in the G-Source tent.  If you are at this year’s festival then please do come and see us.  Not going to the festival?  You can follow what we get up to on Twitter and on Facebook.