Interview Sarah George

Seit Ende August unterstützt Sarah das Team des Willy Brandt Centers als Freiwillige. Ein Jahr lang wird die gebürtige Berlinerin nun in Jerusalem neue Erfahrungen sammeln und die Arbeit im WBC mitgestalten können.  

Im Interview mit Sarah stellen wir unser neues Teammitglied vor:

Sarah, seit Ende August leistest du deinen Freiwilligendienst im WBC. Wie hast du die ersten Wochen erlebt?

Es war sehr intensiv und verrückt. Nach meinen ersten Tagen im WBC ging es direkt los mit der ersten Delegationsreise. In der Uni und in meinem politischem Umfeld war ich immer mit stark polarisierten Debatten konfrontiert. Jetzt versuche ich, das etwas abzulegen und offen für die Eindrücke und Menschen hier zu sein. Das bedeutet für mich erst mal ganz viel zuzuhören, Perspektiven anzuerkennen, zu lernen.

Was hat dich motiviert, dich für das WBC zu bewerben? Was begeistert dich an diesem Projekt?

Ich war selbst auf zwei Delegationsreisen mit dem WBC unterwegs und direkt begeistert von der Arbeit und der Idee des Zentrums. Ich glaube, dass das WBC sehr gute Möglichkeiten bietet einen umfassenden, progressiven und reflektierten Einblick in die Region zu bekommen. Zum einen gefällt mir der Ansatz der doppelten Solidarität, der einen Ort kreiert, in dem unterschiedlichste Narrative zusammenkommen. Aber auch die politische Ausrichtung des Projekts, die bei der Auseinandersetzung um den Konflikt und anderen Themen eine klare linke und progressive Ausrichtung verfolgt, versucht diskriminierungsfreie Diskurse zu etablieren und gezielt alternative, junge Menschen und Organisationen fördert. Zum anderen steht das WBC im engen Austausch und Zusammenarbeit mit den Partner*innen vor Ort und konzentriert sich darauf, lokale Inhalte und Perspektiven zu unterstützen.

Du bist bei den Jusos in Thüringen aktiv und bist dann auch auf eine Delegationsreise nach Israel und Palästina mit dem WBC gefahren. Wie kam es dazu und wie hat sie dich geprägt?

Meine erste Delegationsreise vor 2,5 Jahren hat vor allem meinen eignen Feminismus geprägt. Ich habe beide Male an der Frauen*delegation teilgenommen, dort haben wir gezielt Feministinnen getroffen und uns mit frauen*politischen Themen auseinandergesetzt. Das bedeutete vor allem, eurozentristische Perspektiven zu hinterfragen und einen Einblick in andere feministische Kämpfe zu bekommen. Beispielsweise sind die Armee oder Religion ein wichtiger Bestandteil der Sozialisation, welche stark patriarchal strukturiert sind. Dahingehend beschäftigen sich beispielsweise Women of the Wall damit, gleiche Rechte für Männer* und Frauen* an der Klagemauer zu erstreiten.

Was hast du sonst noch bei den Jusos gemacht?

Bei den Jusos habe ich mich hauptsächlich der Verbandsarbeit gewidmet. Im Landesvorstand habe ich die Reihe „Your Body is a Battleground“ aufgezogen, in der Veranstaltungen zu beispielsweise den Themen Reproduktions- und Carearbeit, feministischer Liebe™ oder Trans*sexualität stattfanden. Aber auch die FLIT*-selbstorganisierte Vernetzungs- und Bildungsarbeit war da ein Bestandteil.

Was verbindet dich über die Jusos hinaus mit dem Willy Brandt Center?

Vor meiner Jusoarbeit war ich im Jugendwerk der AWO aktiv, wo ich begonnen habe mich mit politischer Bildung, Pädagogik und selbstorganisierter Verbandsarbeit auseinanderzusetzen. Daneben habe ich ein Jahr in der Bildenden Kunst gearbeitet und war am Theater aktiv, wo ich vor einiger Zeit auch bei einem Theaterprojekt einer israelischen Regisseurin mitgewirkt habe. Das verbindet mich auf jeden Fall mit allen drei Projektstellen und ich freu mich darauf neben der Politik auch etwas über Bildungsarbeit und Kunst hier zu lernen. Darüber hinaus finde ich es generell wichtig in der politischen Arbeit nicht nur parteipolitische Perspektiven zu berücksichtigen, sondern eben beispielsweise auch Kunst als politisches Ausdrucksmittel zu fördern.  

Worauf freust du dich im kommenden Jahr am meisten?

Ich bin allgemein kein Fan von Superlativen. Ich freu mich auf`s Lernen, Hummus, Diskussionen, spannende Leute kennenlernen, neue Sprachen und auf schöne Aussichten von den Dächern dieser Stadt.

Study Visit of Hans Böckler Foundation (HBS) – August 31-September 9, 2018

Work relations and the struggle for workers’ rights have had a fundamental effect on the shaping of both Israeli and Palestinian societies, and the relations between the two. These include an estimated 100000 Palestinians from the West Bank who currently work in Israel, as well as the fact that the German and Israeli trade unions have laid the foundations for the establishment of German-Israeli diplomatic relations in the late 1950s.
These are just a few of the issues the young trade union activists from the Hans-Böckler-Stiftung discussed during their delegation to Israel and Palestine. The Willy Brandt Center wishes to raise the awareness towards the role of trade unions and further strengthen relations between them. For this reason, we were delighted to welcome the Hans Böckler Stiftung, who over the course of 10 days visited many of our partner organisations such as Histadrut, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Israel, HaNoar HaOved VeHaLomed, German Embassy Tel Aviv, the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions and many more.

WBC Political Summer Camp – August 6-12, 2018

“You always need to step out of your comfort-zone to understand other ones’ needs — a safe space in the middle of nowhere brings the group together and makes it possible to work intensely — We have more in common than things that separate us”

From the 6th to the 12th of August, comrades from the partner organisations of the WBC came together in a remote area of Edersee in the north of Hessen to a first of its kind WBC Political Summer Camp. More than 50 young activists from Israel, Palestine and Germany came together to meet, get to know each other and learn more about their individual backgrounds and societies – and the conflict.

The general topic of the Summer Camp was “Community Organising”, aiming to explore the idea of organising within and around a community and political organisations, through socialist and social-democratic perspectives and topics.

During a week of discussions within the Working Groups on Education, Gender Equality and Workers’ Rights, the participants had the chance to share and reflect on their societies and work within their movements. There was something that each and every one of us learnt during this week: There is not only one perspective, and only if you make yourself free from your prejudices and former experiences, are you able to learn and accept the perspectives of others and work together.

The first, but also the only disappointment, was when we realised on arrival, that the lake (Edersee) was almost completely dry, so there would be no swimming in between the working groups…
Nevertheless, there were enough things to do: as well as the workshops, there was time for singing, dancing, doing sports, playing games – and sometimes time just to have a beer and a chat.

In the reality we live in, meeting activists from different backgrounds is not by any means easy to organise, and the result was astonishing and empowering. The week was a great mixture of learning – inside and outside of the workshops, having fun, making friends and ended with a lot of planning to meet again, to continue working together and dreaming of a socialist world. And eventually, during the week, we even managed to find a lake with water!

The Summer Camp felt like the start of something new and it is our goal to take the spirit from this week, take it back to our movements and create more of these kinds of spaces within the framework of the Willy Brandt Center.

For more information and to support this kind of a project in the future, write to SummerCamp18@willybrandtcenter.org

Art Cooperation in Gaza – “A Gaza Overture”

Petra Klose, our Social Art Project Coordinator, was invited to Gaza by UNESCO to meet potential partners. In the following text Petra tells about her experience.

When I received the message “You will be leaving for Gaza at 8.30 tomorrow morning“ – I could actually not believe it. I had planned to go to Gaza several times before but every time the trip was cancelled due to security reasons. After the recent bombings and casualties, I couldn’t imagine that it would work out this time. But thanks to our partner, the UNESCO, I was allowed to join a UN car to drive from Jerusalem to Gaza the next morning to do some research for upcoming concerts and music workshops. We had decided to develop a series of jazz performances with local and international musicians, trusting in the power of jazz music in promoting creativity and intercultural dialogue.

Having dealt with all formalities at the Israeli border control, the UN car was allowed to drive through the Erez crossing. Yellow signs showed directions towards “Israel“ and to “Gaza“. What kind country is Gaza? I wondered.

A large, immensely high gate opened ahead of us – and closed behind us. “So this is how it feels when ‘you’re in’, I thought, being aware that it is completely ridiculous to talk about hiding your feelings when you know that you will easily be able to leave in less than 24 hours. On the other side I was met by the UNESCO team who accompanied me to have my papers checked and approved twice more, firstly by officials of the Palestinian Authority and secondly, by representatives of the “de-facto government“ – in other words Hamas, in what looked like a makeshift office in a container on a construction site.

Finally, we were able to drive into Gaza City. I was overwhelmed by the many bright lively colors. I don’t know why I had expected everything to be grey or covered in a thick layer of dust and rubble. In my mind Gaza had always been connected to images of military operations, protests of angry crowds, or most recently reports of the so called “Great March of Return“.

At the UNESCO office I had the chance to meet with Gaza artists for the first time. From an artistic point of view, the encounter was in no way different than any other production meeting for an upcoming music event; talking about the concept, rehearsal schedules, instrument and musical arrangements. Nevertheless, certain things had to be taken into consideration, such as the application of permits for musicians from the Westbank, the coordination for artists from abroad or the procedure to obtain permission for a public event.

After the meeting we looked at potential concert venues. Again, I was surprised to find beach clubs, discos and fully equipped theatres, as well as beautiful hotels with marble floors and fancy swimming pools. The last thing I had expected to find in Gaza were people having fun in a pool. However, on second glance I could see that there were only men and children in the pool. Women sat fully veiled at the pool edge.

Contradictions and contrasts everywhere. On our journey we drove along kilometers of overpopulated shabby dwellings of refugee camps and passed by the ruins of the cultural center which had been bombed a week before my arrival. On the collapsed walls somebody had written in bold red letters the words: “Free Palestine“.

In the end we found the perfect location for our jazz performance. A small archaeological museum and guest house with a breathtakingly beautiful sea view terrace. It looked like the ideal place to connect traditional heritage with a contemporary experimental music performance.

In the museum I discovered in the midst of byzantine columns a big showcase, displays of coins from the Austrian Hungarian Empire which had been excavated in Gaza. At first I thought that my mind was playing tricks on me, but there was in fact the profile of the Empress Maria Theresia right next to other antique coins, mostly from the Roman Empire. As locked up as we think of Gaza today, we forget how this place had always been at the crossroads of different cultures and empires between Africa, Asia and Europe.

At lunch I had a long talk with my companions for the day, among them an energetic young girl from Gaza. We discussed the effects of closed borders on the artist scene. “People here are hungry for the arts. There are more art projects than one would probably expect but we suffer from the restrictions and are denied connections to the outside world in order to exchange new perspectives.“

When I asked her how she feels as a young secular woman going about the internal borders and the religious rules imposed on daily life, she answered that for her “religion is a private matter“. She explained that she can easily accept everyone’s beliefs as an opinion, but requests respect for hers in return. I was curious as to whether she ever wanted to join the protests at the border. „In the beginning it was a movement that came from the people who were really marching for freedom. Later it became affiliated with the government. Why would I follow a government’s call to march for freedom if they would not allow me the freedom to protest against them if I wanted to?“

Our next meeting took place at the Roots Hotel, one of the few places which offer the necessary security clearance for internationals. A small iron plaque beside the entrance caught my eye: “Build by Utopia Design“.
The hotel was extremely comfortable with all technical amenities, only the noise of the generators reminded me of the long electricity cuts in Gaza. The terrace offered the most amazing panorama, to the right a beautiful beach, to the left the port of Gaza City with dozens of fisher boats lined up in the dazzling sun.
I took a picture and sent it to Nadine, a Palestinian friend of mine living in Vienna, who is currently writing a book about her family’s history. She replied „This will be the hippest summer travel destination in 2025“. She wasn’t cynical about it. Nadine represents a mindset that believes in a world in which anything can happen.

In theatre, we use the term „Coup de Theatre“ – an unforeseeable change, a solution which would have been unimaginable only a few pages before.

Even the one who is regarded as the greatest writer of all time, William Shakespeare, used this technique. The best example is in “The Winter’s Tale“. It is admittedly not considered one of his strongest pieces, offering an outrageously unrealistic and depressing plot with an even more outrageously unrealistic happy ending. I want to spare my readers the attempt of even trying to explain its narrative of tragic events and reunions after long-term separation.

The play takes us to the coasts and deserts of the kingdom „Bohemia by the sea“. Being of Czech descent, what always puzzled me was that the historic Kingdom of Bohemia, which roughly corresponds to the modern-day Czech Republic, had neither a coast nor a desert. But the Shakespearean „Bohemia by the sea“ doesn’t correspond to any real country, it’s a purely fictitious kingdom which became a dictum in the world of literature for the projection of a Utopian country.

When I was picked up from the hotel to start my journey back to Jerusalem it felt like driving through a movie with dimmed sound. Maybe it was partly due to the fact that the sandy streets swallow the sound of the cars but it was also evident that there are not many shops or working places open where people would head to during the day.

I sincerely hope that the musicians with whom we are planning our upcoming events will create a soundtrack that matches the incredible range of colors of this place,as an inspiring overture to new rich soundscapes.

What changed as a result of this visit? When I think about Gaza now, I don’t immediately think of groups of angry crowds, I see individual human faces. And it’s not only walls and fences that come to my mind, it’s wide promenades and beautiful sandy beaches.

In a way Gaza became my personal “Bohemia by the Sea“, a high-contrast country, so close and at the same time, so far. All I can hope for as somebody working in the arts, is for some courageous writers who are ready and willing to come up with an inventive storyboard. Of course, any plot for this might seem even more unrealistic than anything Shakespeare has ever written, but if not artists, who would be allowed to dream and create such a utopia to make its audience believe in a happy ending in The Winter’s Tale.

 

Red Lounge “Spectrums” – July 17, 2018

On July 17th we hosted a screening of the docu-series ‚Spectrums’ at the Willy Brandt Center. Afterwards we held a panel with the artists Afek Testa Launer and Zohar Melinek Ezra.

‚Spectrums‘ is a new Israeli docu-series that follows the social and spiritual worlds of 10 members of the transgender community in Israel. The series sensitively examines a broad and contemporary picture of Israeli society in all its shades through the stories of the characters.

We watched two episodes. The first one introduced us to the colourful character of Lioz, a young transgender woman, trying to cope with the binary definitions of what it means to be a man or a woman. Lioz shows her audience that there is indeed more than one way for a person to define themselves.

The second episode tells the story of Toar, a transgender man who struggles with alienation from his family after his decision to come out as a transgender man. He shares extracts from conversations with his father with the audience and rediscovers moments of anguish.

After the screening, the artists began to talk about their methods: how they met and what it was like producing the series. They revealed how the exposure wasn’t always easy for some of the participants after the series went online and why they decided to release the episodes for anyone to see without restricting it.

The audience also participated by asking them questions, for example how it is living as a transgender man/woman in Israel in comparison to other countries, what is coming up next, and whether the artists plan to do further projects exploring topics surrounding the meaning of being transgender.

This was a valuable evening for both the audience and the artists involved.

Red Lounge with Bakr Khleifi – June 10, 2018

Bakr Khleifi is a young Palestinian musician from Ramallah who has already performed in prestigious venues around the world after becoming member of Barenboim’s West Eastern Divan Orchestra at the early age of twelve. For the Willy Brandt Center he prepared a rich and colourful journey showcasing male and female composers from Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Morocco, Palestine and Turkey.

Bakr was born in Jerusalem and studied in Ramallah, Tel Aviv and Gothenburg receiving further artistic impulses in New York and Europe. The versatile artist plays the oud and the double bass and virtuously shifts between the classical, contemporary and traditional music world.
Bakr’s inspiring performance incorporated a variety of musical styles and rhythms and took us on a journey across different centuries and regions. The audience curiously followed his explanations about the characteristics and history of the respective pieces. The final highlight was the world premiere of his first own composition.

The evening concluded on the terrace of the Willy Brandt Center where the audience gathered to meet the artist and enjoy some Ramadan delights together.

We are looking forward to Bakr Khleifi’s participation in future projects of the Willy Brandt Center. He will perform at the upcoming Jazz Journeys in cooperation with the UNESCO and our Orfeo music theatre project.

Visit of Alice Salomon Hochschule – June 8, 2018

At the Willy Brandt Center, we believe that education is the key to building a sustainable, peaceful and just future. We are therefore always happy to meet young educators and to exchange ideas about challenges in political education and how to tackle them. On the 8th June, project coordinator Maja Sojref met with students of the Alice Salomon Hochschule who were travelling in Israel and Palestine to study the impact of trauma on a personal and political level.

Given this context, the students took particular interest in the Center’s “dual narrative” approach, which recognizes and problematizes the narratives, traumas, needs and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians. They also came with a lot of questions about Holocaust education and were interested to learn that the Willy Brandt Center’s partner organisations have developed new concepts to include all of their members, be they Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Palestinian or other citizens of Israel, in their annual study trips to former concentration and death camps in Poland. The experiences and learnings from Israel and Palestine will surely accompany these young pedagogues and social workers during their studies and their professional life.

Educational Cooperation at the Falken-Verbandswerkstatt – May 8-13, 2018

Although the youth movements in the International Falcon Movement – Socialist Educational International (IFM-SEI) broadly share their commitment to non-formal education, they each have different approaches and practices. In May, SJD-Die Falken hosted their 2018 Verbandswerkstatt, a conference for organisational development which brought together Falken branches from all over Germany. This year they invited Israeli and Palestinian activists from the Educational Cooperation in the Willy Brandt Center to exchange ideas about the theory and practice of socialist youth movements.

Together with Falken representatives, the Israeli-Palestinian delegation read and discussed texts by Kurt Löwenstein, one of the founding fathers of the IFM-SEI and a thinker who has crucially shaped the Falken educational philosophy. The delegation also presented the history of their cooperation and gave insights to the successes and difficulties from the past 15 years. Another highlight of the delegation was a tour of Berlin with Eyas of “Refugee Voices”, who talked about parallels between German and Syrian history and shared his personal story and assessment of the challenges Syrian refugees face in Germany.

Visit of the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung in the WBC – April 18, 2018

The educational materials of the Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung (Federal Agency for Civic Education) have been a staple in every German high school for decades. Almost every German student has them on their desk when they cram their exams in history or political science. It was thus a great honour to welcome some of the thinkers and writers behind these materials for a day of talks and exchanges in the Willy Brandt Center.

The delegation of the Bundeszentrale, including President Thomas Krüger, has been travelling all over Israel to mark the 70th anniversary of the country’s independence. During their visit to the Willy Brandt Center, they enjoyed the opportunity to discuss the prospects and challenges for a political solution to the conflict with Palestinian academics and activists from Jerusalem and the West Bank. Dr Omar Yousef, a distinguished architect and professor of Al Quds University, shared his perspective about the legacy of the Nakba and the discrimination against Palestinian residents of Jerusalem on an institutional and daily level. Riman Barakat and Abeer Natseh, two most impressive business women, talked about their experiences of working in Israeli-Palestinian economic cooperations and equally highlighted how their personal stories have shaped their political outlook on the conflict.

In the final session of the day Maja Sojref, the project coordinator for Peace Education at the Willy Brandt Center, presented the work of the Center and gave insights about the efforts of Israeli and Palestinian youth movements building a joint educational program. We hope to welcome the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung again soon and to continue exchanging how civic political education can help combat polarisation, racism and political apathy in Germany, Israel and Palestine.