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Bethel one of first to show new documentary on Middle East peace work

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Bethel College has been chosen as one of the first 100 venues to launch a new documentary film on nonviolent response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The nonprofit educational organization EthnoGraphic Media (EGM) of Oklahoma City – perhaps best known for the 2006 dramatic film End of the Spear – produced Little Town of Bethlehem (2010), which tells the personal stories of two Palestinians and one Israeli using nonviolent methods to resolve conflict and work towards peace in their countries.

The film premiered in Palestine and Israel last December and had its U.S. launch beginning Sept. 21, the United Nations International Day of Peace. The Bethel College showing will be Thursday, Oct. 14, at 7 p.m., in Krehbiel Auditorium in the Fine Arts Center on the Bethel campus.

The showing, sponsored by the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR), is free and open to the public. The film is rated PG-13 for some violent and disturbing images and parental guidance is advised. A panel discussion will follow the showing of the film, which is 77 minutes long.

Filmed on location in the West Bank, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Little Town of Bethlehem highlights a growing nonviolence movement in the Middle East that seldom makes international headlines.

Little Town of Bethlehem features the stories of Sami Awad, a Palestinian Christian whose grandfather was killed in Jerusalem in 1948 and who today is executive director of Holy Land Trust, a nonprofit organization that promotes Palestinian independence through peaceful means; Yonatan Shapira, an Israeli Jew whose Zionist settler grandparents witnessed the birth of Israel and who is now an outspoken advocate for the nonviolence movement in his homeland and abroad; and Ahmad Al’Azzah, a Palestinian Muslim who has lived his entire life in the Azzah refugee camp in Bethlehem and who heads the nonviolence program at Holy Land Trust, training others in methods of peaceful activism.

During their individual interviews, all three men reference both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi, connecting the Israeli/Palestinian struggle with other historical nonviolence movements that have resulted in the expansion of human rights. The filmmakers raise the question, “How will the cycle of violence be finally broken?”

EGM tapped Bethel as one of 100 locations in the United States to premiere Little Town of Bethlehem after Jennifer Tipton, an EGM staffer working in its San Francisco office, was looking at the Bethel website for information on the college’s program related to peace, tolerance and social justice and discovered the link to KIPCOR.

“I [was] really impressed by your background and research on conflict resolution, as well as KIPCOR’s mission,” Tipton said.

In addition to Little Town of Bethlehem and End of the Spear, other EGM films include Beyond the Gates of Splendor, The Grandfathers and Miss HIV. Like all EGM films, Little Town of Bethlehem was created to reach a global youth audience but Jim Hanon, writer and director, says Little Town of Bethlehem will connect with any viewer who desires a deeper understanding of conflict resolution.

“The major themes in the film are universal and timeless,” he said. “The desire to end violence through nonviolence is not a demographic phenomenon, though often it is youth who mobilize. The theme of this film is appropriate for anyone who deals with conflict.

“This hopeful message of equality is for all,” he continued, “as Little Town of Bethlehem doesn’t focus on who is right or who is wrong – but instead on three men from different backgrounds struggling together toward a common goal through nonviolence. We feel that the nonviolent approach promoted by the film is a humanitarian message with the power to transcend religions, nations, politics, languages and cultures.”

For more information about the Oct. 14 showing of Little Town of Bethlehem, contact KIPCOR at 316-284-5217.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2010-11 Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States and is in the first tier in its category in the U.S. News & World Report annual ranking of “America’s Top Colleges” for 2011. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.

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