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.



Let’s Lead Workshop in Sebastia

 New Capacity Building Program with Seeds for Seeds for Development and Culture‎

The first phase of the new Let’s Lead capacity building program with Seeds  for Development and Culture ended with a full-day outdoor activity in Sebastia, near Nablus. The 25 participants from all over the West Bank have worked for several months on group- and community-building, organizing and mobilization, theoretical inputs and practical trainings. At the end of the course, an Open Space will be designed by the participants.

The trip to Sebastia was the milestone, concluding the phase of group- and community-building with a workshop on identity. The participants were asked to draw a flower that introduces the aspects in their life which shape their identity. Then, the goals of the entire course were discussed in small groups. These aims were later presented through freeze theater scenes. The frozen figures desplayed what the participants wanted to achieve: leadership, cooperation and constructive feedback, to name a few.

After a lunch break by the Roman forum, which is a part of the rich archeological site of Sebastia, the participants built kites together with kids and youngsters from the village. As Sebastia has been affected by violence from the Israeli Army and nearby settlers, flying the kites was intended to show solidarity with the community and enable joyful moments for the kids.

The program continued with more sessions and workshops, focusing on themes such as feminism, democracy and voluntarism, as well as active citizenship.


Out of This Planet: Meteors, Aliens and Vegan Bacon

New cooperation with Holy Local Aliens

Building bridges across borders


I: Meteor Showers  in the Negev Desert. 

In August, we launched a new cooperation with Holy Local Aliens. They are a community of locals (and non-locals) in Israel and Palestine, meeting to explore and build bridges across borders. As mid-August happened to be the peak season of the Perseid Meteor Showers, we decided to organize a trip to a famous spot for stargazing: the Ramon Crater in the Negev Desert.

One of the participants – Marianna – described the group in the following words: “There were people from Israel and Palestine of course, as well as Argentina, Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, Canada, and probably other places that I forgot. My favorite part about these trips is the people“. The group consisted of 30 people –10 Israelis, 10 Palestinians and 10 Internationals. As the bus took off for the 3-hour drive from Jerusalem to Mitzpe Ramon, talks and discussions commenced. Ruth, co-founder of Holy Local Aliens, introduced the two-day program, while Roque, an Argentinian astronomer, offered explanations on meteors, stars and planets, and Palestinian participants proudly presented their university system to the Israelis in the group.

Our first stop was at the Black Hebrews community in Mitzpe Ramon. The community, also known as African Hebrew Israelites, came from the United States to Israel in the 1960’s, but their roots are in Liberia. The community has become mostly known for their healthy holistic lifestyle: all members are vegan, and refrain from eating meat, dairy products, and foods with chemical additives. We met Britney and Yatibia who are running a vegan restaurant in Mitzpe Ramon, where we tried delicious vegan bacon, salads and sandwiches. Yatibia elaborated on their way of life, their Jewish roots and beliefs, and their struggle for acceptance and recognition by the Israeli society and government. Most members of the Black Hebrews community are not citizens of Israel, the group was granted permanent residency status only by the end of 2003. As the warm and interesting encounter with the family came to its end, we headed off to our camp at the center of the crater.

Astronomers from Mitzpe Ramon brought telescopes to the crater, through which we could watch Mars, Venus and Saturn, and a few star constellations. While sitting or lying on the ground under the impressive Milky Way, dozens of meteors drew their tails on the dark canvas of the night sky in a spectacular show. As the joint program ended, small groups gathered to get know each other better, discussing or taking pictures beneath the stars.

The night we spent on the camping mats under the stars was quite short, as we got up the next morning for a sunset hike. A short bus ride took us up to the visitor Center of Mitzpe Ramon, where we were welcomed by a few snoopy wild goats (Nubian Ibex). As we walked along the edge of the crater, the sun rose above and created beautiful silhouette pictures of the group. Walking along the cliff of the crater towards the Camel Hill on the other side of town, we did some more activities to get to know each other and learned about personal backgrounds and motivations to join the trip. As it got much too hot for any outdoor activity, we headed back to the bus and drove to one of the many unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev. As there are no roads or signs that lead to these communities, the 12-year-old son of Salman showed us the way on a quad bike. Salman hosted us in the community’s main tent and explained about their lifestyle, culture and struggles with the authorities. Even though they have been living with their flocks in the desert for generations, the government does not recognize their villages and wants them to relocate into modern towns and cities. This is the reason they lack basic infrastructure and municipal services. Salman showed us how to make Bedouin bread in the ashes of the fireplace, and the traditional coffee that is key to Bedouin lifestyle.

After we enjoyed a delicious and fresh breakfast, we split into mixed groups for a workshop on how we imagine life to be on a different planet. Some of the fictive communities decided to live in matriarchal societies, others to overcome capitalism and abolish clothing sweatshops/factories. Most had creative and smart ideas on how to deal with the Covid19 crisis, and everyone imagined their planet to be a more equal, fair and just place than it is in our contemporary realities.

II: Sunset Hike around Nabi Musa

The second cooperation with Holy Local Aliens led another group of 30 people – from Palestine, Israel and allover – to Nabi Musa. This site, in the West Bank near Jericho, is believed to be the tomb of Musa (Moses). After visiting the part that was mainly built between 1470 and 1480, Ibrahim from the village of Khan Al Ahmar took the group on a hike in the desert. On the way, we stopped for a Bedouin dinner and enjoyed the view of the sun setting down over the desert.

Part of the program was a Qui-Gong practice, lead by Muad. One participant, Dori Bisk, reflected on the experience in a poem:

We stand in a circle



The tips of our hands

Like the peaks
Of the mountains
Reaching for the
Pink purple skies
Of a setting sun
Led us through the desert
reminded us to breathe
In groups of fours
And fives
We find
We have more
In common
Than we realize
We all like cats
We all speak English
We all love green
We all love the desert
We all love travelling
We’re all from Jerusalem
We’re all not from here
We laugh
We smile
We share food
strums the oud
Others happily join in
We sit around a burning fire
Under a star-sparkling blanket
Of darkness
Not us
or them
or You
But one
And the same


(written by Dori Bisk)


click on of the images below to open the gallery:




Come Together, Right Now, Over a Livestream

The Power of Music During a Pandemic:

UNESCO International Jazz Day 2020 in Palestine

Established by the General Conference of UNESCO in 2011, the annual International Jazz Day which takes place every April 30th brings together countries and communities worldwide to celebrate jazz, and highlights music’s important role in encouraging dialogue, combating discrimination and promoting human dignity.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s 9th International Jazz Day celebrations transitioned to a virtual format worldwide.

The Willy Brandt Center in Jerusalem, in partnership with the UNESCO National Office for Palestine in Ramallah, participated once again in the 2020 edition, thereby contributing to this global initiative through music events promoting Palestinian musicians as well as international artists who have participated in former editions of the International Jazz Day in Bethlehem, Gaza, Jericho, Jerusalem and Ramallah.

The event started with an online jazz workshop organized by the Herbie Hancock Institute in Washington. The session took place in Arabic, featuring Tarek Yamani, a New York based, Lebanese-American award-winning composer and a jazz pianist.

We were proud to present online music video premieres of the Palestinian SOL Band, Swiss-Finnish singer Heidi Caviezel, Mohammad Qutati from Ramallah and Lukas Schiemer from Austria, all of whom composed, performed and recorded special contributions for this occasion.

The highlight of the Palestinian Jazz Day celebration was a concert that was streamed live from Gaza through different streaming platforms. The musicians Mohammad Zohod, Mohammad Albalawi, Hossam Hassona and Lyad Abu Laila, all members of the popular Typo band from Gaza, mat at a studio to play for a large online audience. Their performance was followed by a musical performance by Mohammad Shoman, a member of the Gaza based SOL Band, who performed with his sister, singer Ghada Shoman.

In his opening address, Typo band’s lead singer Mohammad Zohod stated that this year, due to the COVID-19 crisis, “our band will play for the first time a concert online instead of facing audiences, but we are sure that you will all enjoy the music and the songs.” The high number of enthusiastic comments during and after the live-concert reflected the great interest and wide participation of the audience. The streaming was followed and shared online by several institutions and individual music fans of the local and international community, and attracted about 1500 viewers from around the world.

We would like to thank the Herbie Hancock Institute for their continuous support and inspiration, and express our profound gratitude to all artists participating in this year’s online events. We are already looking forward to the moment when we will again be able to celebrate the International Jazz Day in Palestine together with our dear audience and with many artists from near and far.

Until then, let us keep on making music and remember the words of Herbie Hancock, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Intercultural Dialogue and Co-Chair of the International Jazz Day, who said, “Now more than ever before, let’s band together and spread the ethics of Jazz Day’s global movement around the planet and use this as a golden opportunity for humankind to reconnect, especially in the midst of all this isolation and uncertainty.”




Spooky Stories and Secret Tales of Jerusalem

Join us for a scary good time!
12-13. September, 2020


Interested in some spooky stories and secret tales of Jerusalem? We are looking forward to welcome you at our freshly renovated center and to kick off the new season with these thrilling outdoor events:

Cakes, Clowns & Ghost Stories for Kids
Saturday, September 12th at 4pm

The Ibtisamet Maqdisi Band will put on a show with lots of fun and spectacular surprises for our small guests.

Popcorn, Drinks & Open Air Cinema with Live Music
Saturday, September 12th  & Sunday, September 13th at 7.30pm

We’ll open the evening with a collection of the most captivating mysteries of Jerusalem’s spooky sites.
After that take a deep breath, relax and enjoy the highlight of the evening, the screening of the black-and-white movie “Phantom of the Opera” from 1925 with live music accompaniment by Maria Neishtadt.

Free admission.

Due to the Covid-19 precautions we will only be able to offer a strictly limited number of places. Therefore please register by sending an email to event@willybrandtcenter.org.

The WBC Team Bakes Delicious Ramadan Cookies

As we returned to the office after weeks of lockdown and home-office, it was time for a joint team activity. Ma’amoul is a typical cookie known in the entire Middle East, especially during Ramadan. Our Palestinian colleagues introduced us to the tradition and the recipe, and showed the team how to mix the semolina with oil and spices. The entire center was filled with the smells of the spices and rose water. After kneading the dough, we rolled hundreds of balls of date paste as a filling for the Ma’amoul, and created a small hole at the center of each cookie. Then it was time for the traditional shaping. and we used special grippers to give each cookie an individual and beautiful shape. Baking them in the oven merely intensified the good smell that permeated the center, and most of us simply could not wait to try these cookies; those of us who have been fasting needed to wait till sunset to give them a try. Finally, we distributed the cookies and shared them with friends and partners.