The Common Good
November 2012

Six Questions for Leila Sansour

by Anne Marie Roderick | November 2012

Leila Sansour, Catholic Palestinian film director and founder of the nonprofit Open Bethlehem

Bio: Catholic Palestinian film director and founder of the nonprofit Open Bethlehem.

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1. How did Open Bethlehem get started?
Growing up in Bethlehem, I always wanted to leave. I settled in London, but when events started becoming worse and worse in the region, I wanted to do something. So I went back and started working on a film. My cousin encouraged me and said, “Look at what’s happening to our city. Why don’t you do more than just a film?” And so together, in 2005, we started a campaign called Open Bethlehem.

2. What is its main goal?
The idea is to use Bethlehem as a doorway into the region. We created the Bethlehem Passport, which is like an honorary citizenship, inviting people to partake in the town that stands for joy and goodwill to all. The passport is an appeal to everybody to do something to help bring peace to the Middle East. We aim mostly at educating people abroad—policymakers, the media, and church leaders—about the plight of Bethlehem, its Christian community, and the diversity of the city.

3. What’s the focus of your documentary Operation Bethlehem?
It’s about how and why we created this campaign. There were a lot of people that I loved in this town that were no longer there because Israel started building the wall. That became a big challenge to the community, so I wanted to remember their legacy.

It also shows how I decided to stay. In choosing this, I realized I was not a captive in Bethlehem. It was a liberating thought. The film documented all this and became much bigger than I thought it would be. We are releasing the film in the U.K. this Christmas and in the U.S. in December 2013.

4. What role has your Catholic faith played in your work?
I always feel that my work is a kind of a prayer, a way of saying that I don’t want to have feelings of hatred or anger. And the only way I don’t is by working. When I get very frustrated with my work, I think of it as a prayer and focus on the love.

5. What is your vision for justice in Palestine?
I think that in the end there has to be dignity for both peoples. The Palestinians deserve the right to a sovereign nation with a contiguous territory, not just pockets where they live. If the Palestinians have that, real peace and goodwill can be forged between both peoples. The final aspiration is that we can live in this area and share it.

6. What gives you the most hope in this work?
The situation on the ground in Palestine and Israel is just so bad. Rather than feeling weak, angry, and disempowered, I believe strongly that we can do it. When you find the will in yourself and you see it in your partners, you feel that there must be a way. Some people are very pessimistic and say, “Nothing will succeed.” But I don’t want to believe it for a second.

                                                                                                                                              —Interview by Anne Marie Roderick

Anne Marie Roderick, a former editorial assistant at Sojourners, is a student at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

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