Bet-Lahem Live festival: A Culture of Life

“We’ve proven that we exist and deserve to live, as we represent hope, ethnicity, authenticity, and joyfulness. Bethlehem is the city of peace, and we want to become a place for peace conferences, for all people experiencing conflict around the world.”–Mrs. Vera Baboun, Mayor of Bethlehem

What is Bet-Lahem Live Festival?

Bet-lahem live is a festival which takes place in Bethlehem’s historic Star Street; it is organized and administrated by the Holy Land Trust, a local Christian NGO.

The festival is an opportunity to bring the world to Bethlehem and Bethlehem to the world; to empower the community; and to show support for the peace and justice movements that are based in Bethlehem.

Holy Land Trust says that their 3 pillars of their organization are justice, faith and culture; and to that end they provide a list of activities ranging from concerts, workshops, parades, theatre productions, justice and faith panels, conferences, multi-faith activities, movie screenings, educational engagement tours, and art galleries, with the goal of building a creative local hub. The Trust aims to celebrate culture while challenging local and international notions of justice, faith and community in a globalized world through a multitude of events.

In short, the festival is a place where diversity, creativity, and social responsibility meet together.

The first Bet Lahem Live festival was in 2013.  It was such a great success that led it to bigger festivals the following years. In 2014, the festival held the theme of “Be a Bethlehemite,” and in 2015, the theme was “Come as You Are.”  The latest one in August 2016, held the theme of “Yalla Makloobah.”  “Makloobah” in Arabic means upside down, and the festival aimed to turn the city of Bethlehem upside down in a good way. And it did an amazing job! This year, we had over 15 thousand people from the Bethlehem area, different Palestinian cities, and around the world who came and enjoyed 4 full days of festival activities, including good atmosphere, good weather, good music, and good Palestinian food.

Elias Dies is the Festival’s manager, the Project Manager at Holy Land Trust, and a student in BBC’s Masters of Peace Studies.  Concerning the festival, he said, “Bet Lahem Live festival is an initiation of Holy Land Trust, inaugurated in 2013, in which we seek to strengthen the local community, and to highlight the importance of Bethlehem historically, culturally and as an important tourist destination.”

Why Star Street?

Sami Awad, the Executive Director of  Holy Land Trust, and a board member of BBC, highlighted: “Our participants come from all over the world.  The main goal of the festival is to revive Star Street which used to be the traditional main street of Bethlehem. Our aim is to show people from around the world that Bethlehem is a city of love; the city that peace sprouts from.”

According to Christian tradition, Star Street follows the route that Mary and Joseph followed into Bethlehem.  It ends at the place where Jesus was born—in what is today known as the Grotto of the Nativity. After Star Street and the Nativity Church were recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Holy Land Trust team was encouraged to bring attention back to Star Street.  The beautiful, ancient street was once the heart of the city of Bethlehem, where Bethlehem’s Christian community lived.  In recent years, the Street has been in decline due to the economic and political situations.

The festival provided an opportunity for the stores that once lined the street to re-open.  Small shops that had been closed for years dazzled visitors with hand-embroidered Palestinan clothing,  organic food products and other crafts; enabling a new generation to discover the traditional food and handicrafts of Bethlehem.

Because We Treasure Life…

As one of the festival’s managers said: “We are Bethlehemites; we are the first people to become Christians after Jesus came. We are here, we are people who have a culture, an identity, and a society of our own. And we are people that treasure a culture of life, not a culture of death.