Between Heavenly and Earthly Jerusalem – Critical Reflections and Decolonization

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).

 

Online Book Launch with Nadine Sayeg

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.

The Miracle of the Lights in the Desert

“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.

Participatory City Tour: Jerusalem, Europe and Me

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.

 

The Current Situation in Lesbos and the International School of Peace

An Online Talk on the situation of refugees living in Lesbos and the International School for Peace on October 19th 2020.

In this online event on the situation of refugees in Lesbos, two coordinators of the schools shared their first-hand experience responding to the crises after the burning of Moria camp in September 2020, their work in Lesbos, and the current challenges the community encounters.
Both spent the last weeks in Lesbos, working in the International School of Peace. The school for refugee children in the Isle of Lesbos was founded in 2017 as a collaboration between our HaShomer HaTzair and Ajyal movement, both partners of the Willy Brandt Center Jerusalem’s educational team. The school is part of the One Happy Family Community Center, a close partner since its inception.
In March 2020, just before the Corona crisis hit the world, the International Peace School burnt down. Until they could find a new place for the school, the organizers provisionally set up tents next to Moria camp, to organize classes and games for the refugee children in Moria. In September 2020, another fire broke out in Moria camp and almost completely destroyed the home of over 13,000 refugees.
Since the fires in September, the International School of Peace team is staying on the island and acts as part of the coalition of organizations that strive to assist those in need in the midst of this chaos. The staff takes part in the humanitarian aid efforts, handing out food and water, and at the same time continues to educate for peace. In this online talk, they gave insights into the current situation and development regarding Covid-19 and the activities that were still carried on during the lockdown.
You can support the International School of Peace in their efforts to continue their journey with passionate students and teachers that are eager to learn together, train teachers and build a new school, by donating here:
https://secured.israelgives.org/donate/schoolofpeace

Update:
Since our October event on the situation in Moria , the refugees’ living conditions have deteriorated drastically. Our support & solidarity is needed more than ever.

Hans Böckler Foundation (HBS) Online Seminar

Corona, Economy, Unions: The Effects of the Pandemic on Israel

 

For our partners from the Hans Böckler Foundation, we hosted and organized an online seminar titled “Corona, Economy, Unions: The Effects of the Pandemic on Israel”. Usually we would have hosted the annual study trip of the Hans Böckler Foundation, which of course had to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Hence, in order to stay in touch with our partners and learn about the current situation, we organized a digital alternative. The first part was an overview given by Tobias Pietsch, WBC’s Project Manager, on the general situation in Israel which these days is affected by by the Corona-crisis, the protest against the government and Prime Minister Netanyahu, as well as the normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

During the second part, the 65 participants had the chance to discuss with the panelists and ask their questions. Dr. Roby Nathanson, CEO of MACRO – The Center for Political Economics, criticized the government for not including economic measures in its crisis management, and provided detailed data on how the pandemic is affecting Israel’s economy and labor market. Bernhard Schulz, Head of Labor and Social Affairs at the German Embassy Tel Aviv, explained his perspective on the crisis management and how it effects his personal and professional life. Peter Lerner, Head of the International Relations Division of the Histadrut, highlighted the import role of unions in this crisis. He described how the Histadrut managed to save jobs and ensured safety and security for workers.

(16. September 2020)

 

A Scary Good Time at the Willy Brandt Center

Spooky stories and secret tales of Jerusalem

On Saturday afternoon, September 12th, we invited the children of the Abu Tor neighborhood for a special program in our garden. Five young artists of the Ibtisamet Maqdisi Band from Jerusalem prepared for our small audience different plays, dance games, face painting and crafting workshops, as well as a theatrical performance of special ghost stories. The children were then surprised by a delicious artisanal cake in the form of a white ghost, made especially for the event by Francis, a talented pâtissier from Bethlehem.

Later that day and on the following evening, we turned the garden at the Willy Brandt Center into an open-air cinema with a big outdoor screen, popcorn and candlelight. As an introduction to our “Scary Evening”, we were excited to present the results of our research and offer our audience a selection of captivating spooky stories and secret tales of Jerusalem, many of which were hidden and discovered in archives. After the reading, the audience watched the screening of the legendary movie “Phantom of the Opera” from 1925, accompanied by Maria Neishtadt’s live music on the electronic organ. Both artist and audience truly enjoyed the rare chance to experience an artistic live performance during these times of the Covid-19 pandemic.
(12-13 September 2020)

 

 

 

 

 

The Anthropological View on Gender, Sexuality and Religion

An Online Lecture by Dr. Elazar Ben-Lulu on the Anthropological View on Gender, Sexuality and Religion: Intersections, Challenges and Contradictions – 29 August 2020

 

In his online lecture on gender, sexuality and religion, Dr. Elazar Ben-Lulu from Ben Gurion University gave insights into his research exploring religious rituals, and invited us to think about social values, cultural norms and human behaviors.

Dr. Ben-Lulu explained that when we look at worshipper’s religious performances, we realize how much our body is a dominant actor in spiritual and religious experiences: by standing, sitting, touching or clapping, as well as other physical gestures, we deliver symbolic messages regarding God or community. Thus, the positionality of the body in the ritual structure is intersected with gender and sexualities matters.

Throughout history, gender and sexual issues such as homosexuality or sexual harassment were excluded from the religious sphere and discourse. Today, however, diverse liberal religious communities around the world invite members to celebrate their sexualities or other gender and bodily experiences. In this contemporary postmodern era, people have the opportunity to reconnect to their body and sexuality by using sacred texts, material objects and political items.

Feminist, LGBT and queer calls challenge the patriarchal realm and expose creative means to renew traditional customs, and create new ones. This egalitarian mission, which has crossed boundaries, cultures and societies, sheds light on religion as a social construction, and discovers new attitudes toward our own body as well as “other” bodies.

Dr. Ben-Lulu’s lecture was accompanied by texts, photos and video materials, and raised questions by the online audience about the relevance of rituals in today’s daily life, with a special focus on the latest developments in Israel.

 

New Bridges in Times of Isolation

Development of a new interactive and interdisciplinary artistic program

 

Corona forces everybody to plan and work differently – also those working as artists or organizers of cultural projects. Despite all difficulties, we were lucky to find out that this challenging situation also offers a lot of positive effects: new creative concepts, new spaces and new encounters.

The Willy Brandt Center currently works on the development of a new interactive and interdisciplinary artistic program, connecting elements from the fields of dance, music, theatre and circus. This program is designed to reach out to institutions such as retirement homes, orphanages and homes for children with disabilities in Israel and the Westbank – which are at risk of being further distanced from their society due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

As an overture to this new program, we organized two artistic performances for the residents of the House Jemima, a home for Palestinian children and young adults with special needs and different types and stages of disabilities, located in the village of Beit Jala, next to Bethlehem.

Precautions against Covid-19 requested a very careful approach in order to guarantee the safety of the performers and their audience, including the usage of masks and gloves, as well as setting up in an airy outdoor area for a limited number of 20 residents.

The program kicked off with a performance of the Palestinian accordionist Mohammad Qutati from Ramallah, who played accordion arrangements for traditional Arabic songs, inviting the audience to actively participate by singing, clapping and dancing. The second half of the program was presented by the ensemble “Mini Clown Official”, consisting of three young Palestinian artists from Bethlehem who prepared an interactive theatre, song and dance performance.

We were extremely touched by the very warm welcome, the joyful and enthusiastic ambiance, and the kind feedback that we received from the residents and their caretakers at House Yemima, and are looking forward to many more happy human encounters.

 

 

click on of the images below to open the gallery (Photos (c) Iuna Viera):

 

 

 

Study Day Givat Haviva

Studying Jerusalem with Students from the Givat Haviva International School

 

While most of the international students of Givat Haviva International School (GHIS) had to return to their home countries due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we decided to organize a study day for the remaining students. In order to learn about history, cultures, religions and narratives, we began our tour on the Mount of Olives. The group included Muslims, Jews and Christians from all over the world, many of them visiting Jerusalem for the first time. During our visit to churches, mosques and synagogues, we collected the stories of the various locations, their meaning and connections to the different religions. In the lush green garden of the Austrian Hospice, we tasted some delicious pastries and coffee before enjoying the amazing view from the rooftop. In Abu Tor and at the Willy Brandt Center, we focused on the mixed neighborhood and cross-border encounters, which also sparked a discussion on the interactions in the International School.