In days of nationwide lockdowns, when everybody has to face stagnation and distance, the Willy Brandt Center wanted to invite its friends and social media followers to be more aware of their body and to trigger health activities by connecting and moving together from a distance. We therefore organized two free online movement sessions for women with no previous movement experience required, on November 25th and December 16th. Every woman was able to participate in her own home, in a space of her choice. The sessions’ program recalled the moving body and examined new areas of movement through the prism of movement and dance therapy. Both sessions were facilitated by the Dance Movement Therapists Lior Darshan and Shaked Sabag.
On December 12th, Willy Brandt Center’s Social Art Program invited its participants to an online Red Lounge titled “Images, Projections and Media”. We set up three different sessions with speakers from the field of media, images and photography, who shared their work, mission and vision.
The event began with a session on New Social Online Journalism. Jala Abu Arab, a young dynamic editor in chief of Dooz –a new and highly popular media institution and training center located in the West Bank – introduced the innovative social multimedia news and exchange platform that focuses mainly on local topics. Abu Arab explained about Dooz’s fight for ethical reporting and against fake news, and presented their initiatives with the aim to give a strong and courageous voice to civil society and to focus on helping people, making positive changes and developing public spaces for debates and information.
In our second session, featuring Bauhaus architecture in Palestine, we welcomed Australian architectural photographer Mikaela Burstow, who has been based in Israel/Palestine for the past 11 years but regularly presents her work internationally in Berlin, Dubai, Tel Aviv, London and Sidney, as well as at festivals in Istanbul, Rotterdam, Nuremberg and Milano. Burstow gave insights into her work in the region and her artistic participation in several exhibitions, books and other political and historical projects. During her presentation, Burstow led us to discover impressive unknown architecture of the International Style in Palestinian cities such as Bethlehem, Jericho, Ramallah and Tulkarem, and showed examples of contemporary architecture in Palestine that was inspired by it.
The event concluded with an online vernissage and talk with Hani Amra, an artist from the Palestinian diaspora who was born in French West Indies, grew up in Jerusalem and studied both literature and art in France. Guests of the vernissage had the chance to view pieces of his series titled “Under the Bird’s Wing”, including collages of historic and contemporary newspaper cuttings, and to learn about the philosophy and multilayered background of Amra’s artistic work.
Covid-19 made us creative once again: in order to show the sketches made by Florence Plissart, a painter and traveler born in Belgium, we came up with the first Pop-Up Exhibition in Abu Tor. With the support of Holy Local Aliens, we exhibited sketches from the Holy Land for two days at the front of our center, and invited visitors to participate in a workshop and get sketched.
Florence Plissart uses her drawings and paintings as a bridge connecting with others. Encounter, discovery and travel are the common thread in her artistic projects. Here she describes herself: “I’m not a Christian, not a Jew, not a Muslim. Neither an exchange student, NGO worker, theologist or archeologist… However, I lived mostly in Jerusalem for the past 21 months. We were brought here by my husband’s work, and felt strongly attracted by the intensity of the Holy City. Finding my place here has often been a struggle, since I belonged to no community. Two things eventually helped me to find my place: sketching the beauty of the city and its people, and meeting the Holy Local Aliens, an amazing community that brings people together beyond walls.”
The first pop-up exhibition in Abu Tor showed seven sets of sketches from Jerusalem, Acre, and the activities of Holy Local Aliens. Due to the current restrictions, the drawings were displayed on the wall along the street in front of the Willy Brandt Center. Around 100 visitors passed by during the two days, many of them from the neighborhood.
During both days, Plissart also sketched children from the neighborhood and the participants of the workshop that was organized by Holy Local Aliens.
The International Political Symposium “The World after American Presidential Elections 2020“ by our partners Seeds for Development and Culture took place on November 18th 2020 as a hybrid event. Approximately thirty participants gathered in Nablus, and over 125 additional participants joined online from all over the world. In three sessions, members of European Parliament, diplomats and academics discussed topics such as “The new US Administration and the Middle East“, “Challenges facing the international system after the elections“, and “The Palestinian question between two administrations“.
All inputs and discussions were translated to English and Arabic, thus allowing discussions between Palestinian and international participants. The second session, on challenges concerning the International System after the US Elections, that was held with Ambassador Majed Bamya, MEP Evin Incir, MEP Margrete Auken and Professor Jan Selby, was hosted and moderated by WBC’s project manager Tobias Pietsch.
Desperate times require creative measures: As we currently cannot invite artists to perform inside our center, we invited them to perform on our roof!
On October 29th, we proudly presented Sabrass, a newly founded chamber ensemble, formed by five of Israel’s leading brass musicians who are also members of the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra: Itai Agmon (tuba), Tal Ben Rei (trombone), Itamar Leshem (french horn), Yigal Meltzer (trumpet) and Yuval Shapiro (trumpet). The artists proved a great sportive spirit and climbed up on our roof with their instruments to perform a unique classical music concert. Even though we weren’t able to welcome guests directly at our premises, music lovers had the chance to take a stroll while listening to the musicians on Ein Rogel Street or from one of the neighboring squares and streets surrounding our center. Our neighbors were also able to simply open their windows or take a seat on their balcony to enjoy pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach, Enrique Crespo, and George Gershwin, as well a selection of jazz songs. It was heartwarming for both musicians and organizers, to see children dancing on the roofs and to hear the sound of cheers and clapping that reached us from the houses and the streets around our center.
On the occasion of the International Artists Day on October 25th, the Willy Brandt Center wanted to highlight culture’s contributions to society in challenging times, and to celebrate all the ways in which artists bring their own special view to life.
We introduced the project “Jerusalem and Europe – Visions for a World of Tomorrow”, a collection of essays and short stories by writers and scholars from Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Europe, inspired by Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday. Hanno Loewy, scolar, writer and director of the Jewish Museum in Hohenems, read his text “The Tale of the ‘Christian-Jewish Occident’”, which was part of this project. He also gave insights into an exhibition that has recently opened at the Jewish Museum Hohenems, titled “The Last Europeans” which.
Israeli bassoon player Nadav Cohen presented a premier broadcast of the piece “Four Character Pieces’ for bassoon solo, by the Jerusalem-based composer Sergiu Shapira. A prominent contributor to the local contemporary music scene, Cohen is a founding member and producer of the Tel Aviv Wind Quintet, and a member of the award-winning Meitar Ensemble, in which he also serves as a faculty member of the “Tedarim” program for contemporary music at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. Cohen spoke to the audience about the challenging situation artists are facing during the Corona pandemic, and the many creative ways artists try to cope with it and reach out to their audience.
Following Cohen’s presentation, Johanna Lonsky, an Austrian cinema and theatre actress working for the BBC and ORF, read the text “Almost Staying” by Julya Rabinowich, which was also a part of the “Jerusalem and Europe – Visions for the World of Tomorrow” project, commissioned in cooperation with the Austrian Cultural Forum Tel Aviv. Lonsky called for solidarity among fellow artists, in order to support each other and to always be aware that we are in this situation together.
We were delighted to welcome an international audience to this event, among them the journalist Pamela Hickman who wrote on her concert critique blog: “Viewing the Willy Brandt Center’s event, one was reassured that the creative spirit is not easily repressed!”
On Saturday, October 17th, the Social Art Project hosted an online talk with Prof. Bashir Bashir, titled ‘Between Heavenly and Earthly Jerusalem: Critical Reflections and Decolonization’. The talk was originally planned to be presented at the Willy Brandt Center as part of the Jerusalem Open Forum, which was intended to focus this year on the topic of “Jerusalem and Europe”. Due to the Covid-19 regulations, the event was held online.
In his talk, Prof. Bashir argued that the Western interest in Jerusalem, which is often articulated in religious terms, tends to conceal colonial and orientalist relations that prioritize the city and its biblical sites over its Arab population, and to ignore the fact that the “Palestinian Question” of is also a European question. The talk concluded that the way forward, for Jerusalem and Israel/Palestine at large, ought to be premised on decolonization.
Prof. Bashir Bashir is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology, Political Science, and Communication at the Open University of Israel, and a senior research fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. He teaches political theory, and his research interests include democratic theory, liberalism, citizenship and nationalism studies, deliberative democracy, historical injustice and reconciliation, memory of the Holocaust and the Nakba, decolonization, Palestinian nationalism and political thought, and alternatives to partition in Palestine/Israel. His most recent book was co-edited with Prof. Leila Farsakh, and titled The Arab and Jewish Questions (Columbia University Press, 2020).
On 16 October 2020, Willy Brandt Center was proud to present the author Nadine Sayegh and her debut book Jaffa Oranges, which recounts her father’s life story from a perspective of 70 years later. The Willy Brandt Center had the opportunity to witness the development of the book over the past months, so it was a special moment to have the chance to present the writer and her work to our audience.
Jaffa Oranges is a family history, a novel against oblivion. The book presents the coming of age story of Nicolas Sayegh, a Palestinian Tom-Sawyer-type, who, together with his friends, roams the sun-drenched neighborhood streets of Jaffa in 1947 – an ancient Arab city, the commercial capital of Palestine at the time, fragrant with the smell of orange blossoms. Nicolas is always up to childhood adventures and mischief, exploring his parents’ magical orange groves, parading through his neighborhood like a cowboy on a donkey’s back, or sneaking out with his best friend Suhail to the local Alhambra cinema. The story poetically portrays the daily life of a well-to-do Christian Palestinian family and the people of Jaffa as a whole, giving insights into the local Palestinian culture that was prevalent at the time. However, Nicolas’ carefree days and boyhood ended abruptly in the spring of 1948, when the women of the neighborhood, warily observing the geopolitical events unfolding, convince the reluctant men to evacuate into safety with the families, as Jaffa surrenders to its new Jewish rulers.
In our book launch event, Nadine Sayegh presented excerpts from the book and presented historic pictures of the family’s villa in Jaffa as well as old family photographs. Fifty guests from Austria, Australia, France, Germany, UK, USA, Switzerland, Israel and Palestine joined the online event. In her introduction, Sayegh explained that she had always wanted to publish a book that tells the story of her father and the memories of his generation, because these stories and memories might vanish by the time new ones come up. Two years ago, after a visit to Jerusalem and Jaffa with her son and father, she finally realized her longtime wish to write the book in cooperation with Austrian author Thomas Köpf.
Her presentation was followed by many questions and comments of our international online guests. At the end, the author surprised and moved her audience by inviting the protagonist of the book, her father Nicolas Sayegh, as well as her son Benedict to join her in front of the camera.
In the following days we received messages thanking the author for bringing a whole age and community to life in such a vivid manner, which opened a window to the unknown Jaffa of the 1940’s, and for sharing her family’s fascinating and moving story as a contribution to understanding and peace.
The Willy Brandt Center will print a limited preview edition of the book in German and English, with a cover designed by Palestinian painter Jumana Emil Aboud.
“It’s a miracle that we are all gathered here”, said one of the participants in the “Lights in the Desert“ events. People from all over the area gathered in a Bedouin tent in the desert, to light beautiful Hanukkah menorahs on the last day of the Jewish holiday of light. We decorated Sufganiyot – the traditional Hanukkah donuts – and grew quite spacy and imaginative in a UV-light meditation-painting workshop. Whether in the campfire or while watching the sunrise over the Dead Sea, people got to know each other across all borders.
Hanukkah is the Jewish holiday commemorating the restoration of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the beginning of the Maccabean revolt, which took place during the 2nd century BCE. It is also known as the Festival of Lights, celebrating the miracle of the one-day supply of oil that miraculously lasted for eight days and kept the Temple Menorah lit. For this reason, Jews celebrate this eight-day holiday by lightning one more candle each day on the nine-branched candelabrum called Hanukkiah.
We drove deep into the Judean Desert in the southern West Bank, where we were welcomed by a local Bedouin family with tea and coffee. The round of introductions revealed the impressive variety of participants’ origins, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Herzeliya, Akko, Baka Al Gharbiya, Yarka, Ramallah, Jericho, Gaza, Bethlehem, USA, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Bulgaria, Russia, Spain, India, Australia, Argentina and Japan.
This event, initiated by Holy Local Aliens and supported by the WBC, enabled a group of Israelis, Palestinians and internationals to celebrate Hanukkah together, meet each other and get acquainted with the Bedouin community that hosted us. Many of the participants brought their own hanukkiahs, some very classic, others very creative. After some explanations of the history and meaning of the holiday, we lit the candles together while singing songs and enjoying the lights in the dark.
After eating a vegan version of a typical Bedouin dish called Zarb, which is made of vegetables that areroasted underground , we split into different groups. One group decorated the Sufganiyot, another was learning about the stars and planets that could be seen in the desert, and the last group participated in a UV-light meditation workshop, painting with UV-colors while listening to relaxing music. The participants shared their work and reflected their thoughts, individually and in couples.
Early the next morning we woke up before sunrise and drove with jeeps through the desert towards a cliff above to Dead Sea, to enjoy the sun rising over the mountains on Jordan. While having a Bedouin breakfast and hot tea, the group had plenty of time to talk, discuss and exchange.
This city tour, organized jointly by WBC and Holy Local Aliens, had neither a single guide nor a pre-determined route. It was created by its participants, who were asked to suggest places and sights connected to Europe. The twenty participants gathered on October 30th at the YMCA, opposite of the famous King David Hotel. These two locations where the first out of eleven places along the route through the Old City, Nevi’im Street, Me’a She’arim, the City Center and Nachlaot.
Ten of the participants presented to us the locations they have chosen and explained their historical, cultural and personal backgrounds, as well as the reasons they relate these places to Europe. The history of the Jaffa Gate area reflects European Influence – from Roman times up until the 20th century. The New Imperial Hotel right behind Jaffa Gate is located where one of the tenth Roman Legion was based; a column with a Roman inscription can still be seen in the courtyard. In 1898, Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II visited Jerusalem and stayed at the Grand Hotel with his wife Augusta Viktoria. European banks, tourist agencies and post offices were located in the vicinity of the gate. After the British took charge of Jerusalem on December 9th 1917, General Allenby walked through the Jaffa Gate.
Right behind Jaffa Gate is the Armenian Quarter, where the participants where welcomed by Malkon, an Armenian resident of the Old City. He explained about the European origin of the Armenian people, their religious history and the genocide they were subjected to in 1915. He also invited us to this home, where we had snacks and personal conversations.
We left the Old City through Damascus Gate and stopped at the German Schmidt School before we walked down the most European and international street in Jerusalem: HaNevi’im, the Street of the Prophets. As Jerusalem expanded outside its walls during the mid-19th century, HaNevi’im Street became home to consulates, hospitals and hospices, as well as notable private homes such as the Tabor House, which was built in 1882 by German archaeologist, missionary and architect Conrad Schick.
Ruth, one of the participants, introduced us the first European Jewish Hotel in Jerusalem: Hotel Kaminitz, hidden in a backyard near Davidka Square. Apart from a few spooky stories, the hotel is also known for Theodor Herzl’s one-night stay in 1898; as the Kaiser’s entourage had taken up every available guest room, Herzl had no choice but to spend the night in the corridor of the hotel.
At a Russian grocery shop near Mahane Yehuda Market, Sasha, another participant, introduced us to post-soviet shopping culture. For many immigrants from the former Soviet Union, this weekly shopping trip connects them to their past, with shelves stocked with dried mushrooms, Russian beer and sweets, and even pork sausages in the fridge. The last stop on the tour was the Greek synagogue in the Greek neighborhood of Nachlaot.
The participatory tour formed new connections between its participants. They changed their roles during the tour, from a speaker to a listener and vice versa. By sharing oral history, people did not only connect to the places and sights, but also to each other. The participants shared, networked, discussed and exchanged. This also allowed underrepresented narratives to surface and challenge the dominant discourse which shapes places and the city.