The “Open Bethlehem” international campaign was launched in November to bring international attention to the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, which has suffered greatly as a result of the controversial dividing wall being built by Israel. “A combination of walls and fences completely surrounds the urban core of the Bethlehem region, leaving only two gates to the outside world,” said Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarseh at a press conference in Washington, D.C. Tourism has been devastated and emigration has skyrocketed. About 10 percent of Bethlehem’s Christian population has left in the last five years.
The city is issuing an honorary passport and citizenship to those who “commit themselves to saving the city,” Patrick Orr, Open Bethlehem’s London representative, told Sojourners. The project hopes to encourage international investment, the return of the Palestinian diaspora, and to strengthen the economic base through a return of tourism. Pope Benedict XVI received the first passport.