Running Away With It

London Marathon today on the day the Sunday Times published its annual ‘Rich List’.

Crowds of runners pelted past Canada Water (renamed for the day following a sponsorship deal with a bottled water company)  as we learn the collective wealth of Britain’s richest 1,000 people now stands at a staggering £547.126 billion. Astonishingly, despite the world economy suffering a decade-long recession this figure has more than doubled since a total of just under £250bn was recorded in 2005.

Alongside this we’ve had a decade that has seen food banks become an essential component in a new, skinnier, meaner welfare state, a hike in fees for further education and an explosion in house prices and rent costs. Zero hour contracts proliferate; we’ve seen a mushrooming of part time jobs and a spike in the numbers of people calling themselves ‘self-employed’ – earning on average around £10k annually.

It’s 2015. By any standards we are becoming a more unequal society. It beggars belief.

Watching the pack of runners go past, the cheering crowds are awash with banners (‘Keep Going Jayne!’), inflatable sticks, oversized spongy hands and and all manner of things to wave. It’s a fantastic atmosphere. People are shouting out all manner of encouragement. Then Simon – in our gang – bellows out through his loud haler “Don’t forget – it’s not a race, it’s a marathon!”

I like that advice. ‘Marathon’ seems to be more about bettering yourself, beating your own time, self-improvement and somehow completing in one piece. Rather than simply competing and racing against others.

A good society sees life is more ‘marathon’ than ‘race’ – about improving myself and finding solidarity and camaraderie with other runners and the crowd. It’s less about a race that involves stepping over others.

More inequality means the richest disappearing off into the distant, racing off and loosing touch with those they started out with – not good for the rest of us. They forget about those left behind.

Libraries of research tell us inequality is bad – an unequal society breeds division, extremist reactions, higher crime and poor health – not good for civilisation. So, if we need better, sharper regulation to ensure more equality, it’s disappointing with an election around the corner, all political parties avoid this stuff.

In the race for No 10, we need to be speaking up, using a loud haler and calling for small incremental changes that create more economic and financial equality. That’s the prize! After all – life is not a race, it’s longer and tougher, like a marathon!

Seized by the Star

Nipped along to the launch of Leila Sansour’s ‘Open Bethlehem’, funded in part by Greenbelt.

Filmed over 5 years it’s a brave, powerful and deeply moving documentary. Sansour explores the story of Palestine through the microcosm of a family in exile and a daughter returning to her beloved Little Town.

A romantic Leila is attracted back home by childhood memories and Christmas card images of Bethlehem returning, just as plans for the apartheid wall become a reality.

The 8 metre high wall is brutal – trampling through neighbourhoods, carving up communities, blocking out light.

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87% of Bethlehem’s land is taken by Israeli occupation enforced restrictions. 25% of Bethlehem’s agricultural land is now only accessible via a permit, which Palestinian farmers must have, to get to through the military checkpoints.

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The wall isolates Palestinians from shops, parks and land. One in five people in Bethlehem are now unemployed in what was once a flourishing tourist destination. 62% of Bethlehem’s population are dependent on tourism. Realising the appalling impact on people and business, Sansour starts a campaign to Open Bethlehem. The film follows Leila as she builds a global coalition of agencies, NGO’s, and people; an ever present camera capturing meetings, conversation, rhetoric, promises and finally the heartbreak of a wall that for now isn’t moving.

‘Open Bethlehem’ captures the violent unrelenting machinery of occupation. Around Bethlehem there are 19 illegal Israeli settlements taking Palestinian land from local families and choking Palestinian neighbourhoods. “This is no place dreamers…”

This is an important film for anyone concerned with the Palestine, Israel, and the Middle east. If you’re interested in social movements the film is a compelling case study, summarising the impossible story of Israeli occupation, and a campaign for freedom of occupation, liberation from enclosure, and justice for both Israeli and Palestinian.

Finally the camera captures the hard work, commitment and fragility of a campaign, which even to Leila’s own family from outside Palestine, seems doomed to fail, blocked by the wall and occupation.

Sansour acknowledges there is very little hope for the future unless the wall comes down. However, the campaign continues, passports are printed and Bethlehem remains open. The film ends defiantly, with hope. “There’s no turning back when your heart is seized by the star of Bethlehem.”

Book the film at your local Ritzy for Christmas – take a gang along and then plan a long pub after for deep conversation. There are insights here for UK NGO’s charities, churches, activists, organisers and people of faith – a Palestinian theology of foolishness and faith, and a compelling commitment to change the world.

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