Little Town of Bethlehem – Review by Tim Gardner

Sat., Oct. 15—2:00pm Block – Philomethian Street Auditorium

You can’t judge a doc by its title. Little Town of Bethlehem is, as Churchill once quipped of Russia, “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

It would seem that an area of the world continuously plagued by the relentless stress of violence, the concept of nonviolence could be an attractive alternative. However, those who embrace and spread the teachings of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. as a technique for resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestine are regarded by many as radicals. To their peers, they are labeled as weak, cowardly, or as sympathetic to the enemy. To governments, they are dangerous.

Sami Awad is a Palestinian Christian who was born in Kansas City. His parents moved back to Bethlehem when he was 6 months old. It’s not surprising that Sami found his way to the teachings of King and Gandhi. His grandmother was a devout pacifist after her husband was killed by a sniper in 1948 during the Arab-Israeli War. Seven children were left behind. One of them, Mubarak Awad, Sami’s uncle, began his studies at Bluffton University. Upon returning to Jerusalem in 1983, he established the Palestinian Centre for the Study of Nonviolence. In 1988, Mubarak Awad was famously deported as a “threat to the security of Israel.” His fight against the ruling included intervention efforts from the Reagan administration.

Sami Awad gave his first public talk about nonviolent resistance at 17. His father “deported” him back to Kansas to complete his studies. When Sami returns he marries and creates The Holy Land Trust, as a “vehicle for Nonviolence Programs in support of the Palestinian people.”

Yonatan Shapira, an Israeli Jew came to the nonviolent movement by a more circuitous route. The son of a heroic Israeli fighter pilot, Yonatan was born at a military base in 1972, the same year as the Munich Olympics. Fiercely proud of his father and the father-land, he becomes a skilled military helicopter pilot. His brothers also served in the military. After his younger brother suffers severe post-stress disorder syndrome, Yonatan begins to doubt the righteousness of Israel’s military actions. One day he is invited to a mixed meeting of Israelis and Palestinians called The Courage to Refuse. It changes his life.

Ahmad Al’Azzel, is a Palestinian Muslim who was born in the Azzel Camp in Bethlehem. The United Nations had established the tent camp in 1948 as a 10-day temporary refugee camp. Sixty years later only the tents are gone from the 200 x 150 meter area. Now, more than 2,000 reside there. Almost 50% are younger than 18 years old. Born into violence, Ahmad Al’Azzel is risking his life by embracing nonviolence resistance for the future of his young family.

Writer-Director, Jim Hanon masterfully melds the stories and lives of these three men with stunning results. His juxtaposition of footage from the 1964 U.S. Civil Rights movement and 1987 Palestinian “Intifada” is so adept it’s sometime hard to tell the two apart. The music bed he employs ranges from traditional acoustic strings, to a haunting blues harmonica and an infectious urban rap.

Little Town of Bethlehem delivers in a very big way.