Bethlehem has been buzzing this week with the Bet Lahem Live festival, organized by Holy Land Trust. This debut music and culture festival took place between the 13th and 16th of June on the historic Star Street, the traditional entrance to Bethlehem in the old town which is also known as "pilgrimage route", -according to the tradition is the way that Mary and Joseph traveled to give birth to Jesus, and it guides towards the Church of the Nativity.
Both the Star Street and the Church of the Nativity are historical heritage of humanity at risk since 2012, months after admission of Palestine to UNESCO, which shows the importance to human history.
The festival opened with a bang on Thursday, with a parade of Scouts, clowns, dancers and performers making their way from the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square, down Star Street to the Catholic Action Center. Gangnam Style echoed off the walls of the city as the excited crowd of teenagers and children celebrated the beginning of what was to become a time of revival in the old city, bringing together the present and the past in a flurry of colour and noise.Star Street has suffered economically since the second Intifada with only 18 shops of 98 remaining open in this once vibrant market street. It is worth noting that the tourism sector in Palestine is being constrained by Israel: the illegal occupation of their land, the lack of Palestinian sovereignty over their borders and the imposed restrictions to movement create difficulties to tourism. In addition, Bethlehem suffers considerable leakage on tourism revenues, with tourists staying in Israel and visiting only for a couple of hours Bethlehem.
The festival included a daily tour for locals at 10:30 am, which told the story of the Star Street and included a guided tour in the International Nativity Museum, a museum that was opened in 2000 and has more than 200 pieces of interpretations from different cultures around the world.
On the main stage highlights have included traditional dance groups from all around the West Bank and various international performers. While the music resounded from the stage, Kebabs, Felafel and Shisha pipes smoked beside stands selling varieties of crafts and snacks, lit by lamplight and serenaded by local musicians. A real highlight was to see the children so happy, the face paint and friendship bracelet stand were in high demand. True to its intention, Bet Lahem Live filled the old city with families and tourists, with local residents expressing their satisfaction at seeing the community filling the road again. With little to do socially under the occupation there is a great desire in Bethlehem to see Star Street alive and well once again, and the festival has provided a much needed hope that this may well be possible.
Bethlehem showed once again how it carries out every day, through smiles, hospitality and joy, the peaceful resistance and the quest for recognition of their land as a state.