Carol Sansour, office director of Open Bethlehem, which launched the Bethlehem passport project says this document is an honorary document that will be granted to friends of Bethlehem and friends of the Palestinian cause from all over the world.
She said the project is part of a move to mobilize all efforts to halt the measures of Judiazation taking place in Bethlehem that are targeting Bethlehem’s land, history and civilization, which just over 2000 years ago witnessed one of the greatest events of all time, the birth of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, says Sansour, all concerned parties in the world are called on to stand by Bethlehem, which is being subjected to a process of Judiazation and a transformation of its landmarks through the separation wall being built on its land. This wall has surrounded the city from all sides. She also said the campaign was part of media efforts to save Bethlehem, which is in real danger.
Sansour said Open Bethlehem was established last May with the aim of defending Bethlehem and confronting the racist separation wall. Thus, the idea of the Bethlehem passport was born.
This honorary document is to be granted to prominent personalities in various countries who declare their commitment to stand up to the injustices being done to Bethlehem. This could be achieved either through organizing activities or through supporting various projects for Bethlehem. The bearer of the Bethlehem passport will become an honorary citizen of Bethlehem.
“There have been important personalities who have declared their support for the idea, including Archbishop Desmund Tutu who is considered the spiritual father of the Catholic faith in Africa and an important personality. Former US President Jimmy Carter has also pledged his support for the project.”
Sansour said the project is the result of cooperation and coordination between a number of Bethlehem organizations, namely the municipality, the governor’s headquarters and Bethlehem University. Mayor Victor Batarseh attended the activities in this regard in both London and Washington.
In the UK, 52 British members of parliament signed a petition against the separation wall about 10 days ago. In addition, head of the British parliament commission said he would work on organizing a fact-finding trip to Bethlehem to look into the ramifications of the latest Israeli measures in the city.
Prominent British businessmen were also addressed in order to organize a trip to Bethlehem in solidarity with the city.
There is also a possibility that the Catholic and Protestant Churches may release a joint statement, which would be the first move of its kind, in which they denounce the measures in Bethlehem and call for saving the city and lifting the siege on it. Sansour says there may also be a US tour to promote the project.
The former Bethlehem governor said he informed President Abbas of the project and that the president praised this move and called on the concerned parties to offer the necessary facilitations for its progress. Bethlehem University also embraced the project by opening an office for Open Bethlehem on its campus.
During PNN’s interview with Sansour, she also said the project’s other goals were to market Bethlehem as a major tourist destination and to confront Israeli schemes to strike at Bethlehem’s tourism, namely by imposing a tight siege around it and closing off its entrances.
Israeli control over it is so tight it even impedes tourists from reaching the city freely, thus insinuating that Bethlehem is not a safe place to spend the night in. The result, says Sansour, has been that tourists come before noon and leave by the afternoon only to spend the night in Israeli hotels.
“Therefore, our goal is to first bring tourists back to Bethlehem and to have them spend the night. From there, we want them to go to other Palestinian cities such as Jerusalem, Nazareth and Haifa, which are all rich with Arab Canaanite heritage and culture. We want to offer them a complete tourist package prepared by Palestinian tourist agencies.”
Sansour believes the Christian emigration from the country is one result of Israel’s policies against the Palestinians.
“The lack of political stability and security coupled with the lagging economic situation are real reasons behind this emigration,” she says. “Still, national institutions have an obligation to stop this flow of emigration and to bring back Palestinians from abroad through programs directed at our people in the Diaspora.
We need to encourage them to return and invest in their homeland. This all needs courageous efforts and it needs a revival of all aspects of the city.”
She continued, “We want the Christians to feel a strong sense of belonging and affiliation to this country.”
Going back to the passport, Sansour said the document looks like any other official travel document. In both Arabic and English, the passport says, “The bearer of this passport is a citizen of Bethlehem and believes that this ancient city shines a light on the world and on all who hold dear the values of a free society.”
The bearer of the passport is granted citizenship of Bethlehem because he/she contributed to preserving the city and for defending what it represents, which has made Bethlehem a source of inspiration for the world, said Sansour.
Issuance of this passport began in 2005 in response to the construction of the illegal wall, which threatens to change the entire entity of the city. Its goal was to remind the world that Bethlehem refuses to live in the shadow of the wall, said Sansour.
She continued that the plan is to grant this passport only to the large circle of Bethlehem’s friends including celebrities and famous personalities in different fields.
“This passport is an expression for our longing for liberation in this historical spot of Bethlehem and in all cities that had social, religious and trade relations with Bethlehem over the past 4,000 years.
This passport is the expression of our longing to live in a just and democratic society built on security, freedom of movement and the right of people to self-determination.”