Â Poppy Liuba-Carmichael, Alternative Information Center (AIC)
The Bethlehem Live Festival brings local and international artists to Palestine to revive historic Star Street and energize cultural resistance to Israeli occupation.
This year, Bethlehem held its fourth annual Bethlehem Live Festival on Star Street from August 4th to 7th, 2016.
Star Street is one of Bethlehemâs oldest commercial streets and a UNESCOÂ World Heritage Site. The street begins at the site of King David Wells, winds through historic quarters of Bethlehem, merges with Manger Street and eventually reaches the Church of the Nativity. Religious pilgrims have long taken the road to reach the Church of Nativity.
Star Street was once the busy centre of Bethlehemâs Old City. However, the path’s local businesses have struggled to survive since the Second Intifada, when the Israeli government severely restricted movement in and out of the city. Israelâs construction of the apartheid wall, which severed Bethlehem from Jerusalem, further challenged Star Streetâs economic vitality. Said Zarzar, the artistic director of Bethlehem Live and a resident of Star Street, explained to the Alternative Information Center that since the Second Intifada, 128 shops have closed down in the area.
The festival revived Star Street for four nights. Zarzar explained that with Bethlehem Live, âwe are creatingâŠ an identity for this street.â
The festival showcased a variety of musical acts, political lectures, interviews and pop-up vendors. Many local and international volunteers, musicians, artists and attendees helped bring the festival to fruition.
Haneen Hanna and Mohamad Hahsiry, two local artists at Bethlehem Live, said âwe want people to ask questions and for visitors to learn about the history of this street.â âWe do not charge much for the picturesâ they added, âthe most important thing is the exchange of ideas.â
Some bands and speakers travelled to Palestine from as far as the U.S. and Japan to attend this yearâs festival, including the U.K. band Mumford and Sons.
Zarar said that bands from abroad “come with little help from the festival financiallyâ and generally âfund themselves [to] come here to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people [and] say âwe are with you.'”
This diverse range of participants brought along with them diverse expressions of solidarity with the Palestinian people, such as the Horishima Memorial Day event from Japan.
Even after the festival closed down for the night, local musicians and visitors continued to play and sing in the temporary cafes, carrying the spirit of Star Street throughout the night.
Abed, a young volunteer from Bethlehem, affirmed that this year’s festival brought much âhappiness and lifeâ to Star Street. He added that the festivalâs atmosphere must continue throughout the year, however, as âtomorrow these streets will be dead.â
Poppy Liuba-CarmichaelÂ studies Arabic and Social AnthropologyÂ at the University of Edinburgh.
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Chris Carlson is a student of religion at Mount Mercy University, United States, and has been a regular volunteer with the IMEMC since 2013. He assisted in providing extensive coverage of the 2014 Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip and continues, into the present day, with the issues at hand. He can be reached via email at c h r i s @ i m e m c . o r g.