Startseite – Filme – „Ich kam nach Palästina…“ – Texte –

“I Came to Palestine…”

Treatment for a Documentary Film

"So the idea is not to proclaim an `ideal' and to demand, struggle for and await its fulfilment, but to begin every morning a new working for what is right and just, not knowing how far you will get today, but knowing that there will be yet another beginning on the morning to follow – and that our accomplishing and accomplishment lies hidden in this everyday reality."

(Martin Buber 1924)

The idea

Almost fifty years after unsuccessful attempts to establish a state, after five lost wars and decades of displacement, self-delusion, humiliation and hatred, Palestinians are now seeing the founding of their own state come within reach for the first time. Fighting for and suffering with them during all these years was a small minority of the Israeli population who – although they never managed to grow into a large movement – left nothing undone to bring about a reconciliation between Jews and Arabs. I am talking about the handful of elderly Jewish men and women who have been fighting for the Palestinians' right to self- determination, some of them for more than half a century.

Once young pioneers dedicated to the Zionist ideal of founding a Jewish state, most of them had emigrated from Eastern European countries and Germany in the 20s and 30s and settled in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine. For a greater part of these immigrants the notion that national self-fulfilment would lead out of a history of anti-Semitic discrimination and deprivation harmonized with concepts of utopian socialism: living off the fruits of one's own labour on one's own soil in a just and brotherly society.

But their humanistic convictions brought some of them into conflict with Zionist policies. They could not accept that the existence of the Arab part of the population of Palestine was being ignored and that Arabs were being driven from their soil. They met with a lack of understanding and open animosity for persistently warning others about the consequences of a forcible marginalization of the Arab population.

The remembrances of these people open the book of history to a page without which it would be difficult to fully understand what has compelled Israel to finally decide to make peace with its Arab neighbors. They have been the catalysts who--in diverse forms, in parliamentary and extraparliamentary movements--have kept the idea of peaceful coexistence alive in the consciousness of the Israeli public. To let them tell their life stories would be to trace the historic events that have led up to the Middle East peace negotiations.

To this day, on the Jewish and the Arab side alike the prevailing notion is that one's own identity is to be derived primarily from a national consciousness. According to Martin Buber, Jewish nationalism was rooted in the lack of a territorial foundation, the lack of freedom and unity, without which a people could not give a concrete shape to "its being a people". The Jewish intellectual and scholar Hannah Arendt convincingly demonstrated in her writings how the Zionist movement succeeded in persuading Jews who had not come to the country for nationalistic reasons to identify with its slogan "Land without a people" so as not to commit political and social suicide. Accordingly, Jewish workers had to ignore the Arab population to safeguard their own basis for survival. Even the idealists among them let themselves be led to thoughtlessness and later narrow-mindedness towards the Palestinians. At the same time, the idea of a Jewish home also encompassed the notion of having as many people as possible help build the Jewish state with their own hands: Without the Jewish proletariat, " the whole Zionist endeavor could have easily degenerated into a colonial undertaking that was entirely at the expense of the native population and relied on its work." (Hannah Arendt). Thus nationalism was also a weapon which was supposed to protect against unemployment and social decline. Israeli national consciousness was derived from the struggle for survival, the settlement of the land and immigration. According to the Israeli writer Abraham B. Jehoschua, this consensus, which had so far joined together the yuppie from Tel Aviv, the Oriental from Haifa and the religious Jew in Jerusalem, is beginning to fall apart. Israel won the struggle for survival. Land settlement as a means of reinforcing the borders will be soon be losing its significance as borders are being recognized. And in times of peace, immigration will not have to counterbalance the Arab population. As Israel makes peace with its Arab neighbors, the question of how the nation will see itself in the future arises.

For decades the kibbutz, the rural commune, has been considered the most important manifestation of Israel's spiritual and moral integrity. Here socialism with a human face (Martin Buber), the quintessence of Israeli egalitarianism (Isaac Deutscher), was being exemplified. Within the history of ideas, the kibbutz can be traced back to Fourier's theories and Robert Owen's experimental cooperatives. But while the experiments of the utopian socialists failed or were absorbed by capitalism, the kibbutz has developed a remarkable ability to survive. The kibbutz has exerted a powerful moral influence, which has reached deep into Israeli public life and contributed decisively to the formation of an Israeli identity. But as the founding generation and its spiritual values disappear, the heritage of the kibbutz movement, too, is now at stake.

For the early pioneers of peace who I want to introduce in my film, hopes for a peace go hand in hand with the utopia of a just society. Looking back on their lives and their personal commitment, I will ask them what life in Israel will be like in the era of peace and whether the Jewish values of humane and just egalitarianism will continue to be valid in the future Israeli society.

The contemporary witnesses

My selection of contemporary witnesses was based on the following criteria:

a) The witnesses were not born in the country.

b) They immigrated while they were young in the 20s and 30s.

c) They represent different currents of spiritual life in Israel.

d) They have worked toward peace in different ways.

The protagonists belong to the generation that founded Israel. Most of them had been prepared for their emigration to Palestine by Zionist youth organizations in their respective countries of origin. It was not so much a flight from impending annihilation, but the foundation of a national Jewish state that stood in the foreground in their case. The Jewish national consciousness, which was awakened by the Zionist movement, played just as much a part as did concepts of socialism, which had found widespread support among the Jews of eastern and western Europe. While non- Zionist Jewish socialists were committed to internationalism and branded Jewish nationalism as reactionary and wrong, the Zionist socialists, under the influence of utopian socialism, strove for a realization of their ideals in collectives and communes, in which the fruit of their labour was redistributed and relationships among each other were supposed to take on new forms. The people who were headed for Palestine were taught farming skills to prepare them for a life in the kibbutz.

Some of my protagonists joined the then banned Communist Party, which was the only Jewish political party to stand up for Palestinian rights. Others contributed to the foundation of the Israeli peace movement. Still others championed the cause of equal rights for Palestinians on an extra-parliamentary, grass-roots level in their immediate surroundings. And for some, moral convictions and religious beliefs formed the core of their commitment to a peaceful solution.

Ruth Lubitsch

"In Europe people only had vague notions about Palestine. The Zionists had said nothing or next to nothing. All the more unpleasant was my surprise in the kibbutz, when I learned about the Arabs and the problems with the Arabs. From the beginning, there was no intent to cooperate with the Arabs."

Ruth Lubitsch, whose original name was Anka Warschawiak, was born in Warsaw in 1910. She comes from a middle-class family. As a young woman she joined the socialist Zionist youth movement ha Shomer ha-Zair. She wanted to get away from her domineering father, who sent his sons to a religious school. She wanted to be independent and live in a kibbutz. As a 19-year-old, she came to Palestine in 1929, and, in the kibbutz, was soon confronted with the fact that the land was being taken away from the Arab population. This experience, which clearly conflicted with her ideals, prompted her to leave the kibbutz and to look for like-minded people, whom she found in the formerly outlawed Communist Party, in the decades to come she worked untiringly for the party and made it into the central committee of the organization.

Today Ruth Lubitsch is quite frank about having turned a blind eye to Stalinism at the time: "I loved the Soviet Union like a child, and you don't wash your dirty laundry in front of the neighbors' eyes." She still believes in her socialist ideals as strongly as ever. "I had two major goals in my life. I wanted to build up socialism in Israel and I wanted reconciliation with the Palestinians. I am happy at least to be able to witness the achievement of one of my goals."

For decades, the Communist Party of Israel was the only parliamentary force which actively stood up for the Palestinians' rights. In the course of time, this circumstance has transformed it from an originally Jewish party into more of an Arab party, the members of which stem from the Israeli-Arab population. After the war of 1967 Ruth Lubitsch began to organize Palestinian women's groups in the occupied territories and to support the women in their two-fold struggle against Israeli occupation and the despotism of their fathers and husbands. Presently she is busy trying to uncover the fate of Jewish party comrades who went to the Soviet Union in the 30s and 40s and have since disappeared.

Amos Wollin

"I came to a country for which I was unprepared. On the 22nd or 23rd of September 1938--one week before Hitler, Mussolini, Chamberlain and Daladier agreed on the cession of the Sudetenland to Hitler's Germany--we had left Czechoslovakia for Palestine. It was just in the nick of time. I was 15 years old then." Throughout his whole life Amos Wollin's father, a doctor from Leitmeritz (Litomerice), had never been a Zionist, and due to his staunchly Kantian approach, he had an anti-nationalistic outlook. He went to Palestine for purely practical reasons, because for him and his family, being Jews, he did not see any other possibility of fleeing the imminent inferno. Amos Wollin grew up in a multicultural environment, in which German and Czech elements blended. From the beginning, this circumstance as well as his parents' intellectual influence had made him an outsider in the Jewish milieu in Palestine, where the Zionist concept of a Jewish nation state predominated. It did not take long for him to realize that he would never feel at home in the kibbutz: " Toward the end, the youth group almost wanted to force me to make up my mind to stay in the kibbutz. But the stronger the pressure, the clearer my decision became: I wanted out."

His criticism of how Palestinians were being treated did not stem primarily from being personally confronted with the problem; instead it was rooted in the liberal, anti- nationalistic ideas which had shaped him. Similarly, as an officer in the British army, he was driven primarily by the intent to fight fascism--and not the desire to lay the foundation for an Israeli army, as was the case with his Jewish comrades-in-arms.

To the present day Amos Wollin works as a correspondent for a German and an American newspaper. With an alert mind and sharp wit, he is a critical observer of Israel's development. Basked in the light of the evening sun, we are sitting on his rooftop terrace in the southern part of Tel Aviv, surrounded by plants growing in profusion. As we look out onto the sea, four army helicopters come flying along the coast and disappear off to the south. They are returning from a combat mission in Lebanon. "Later we will be able to see on television where they ?ve been," says Amos Wollin. "I have often been asked whether, with all my criticism of Israel, I feel at home at all here. Yes, insofar as I feel at home anywhere, it's in Israel. I feel and think like an Israeli – but like an annoying Israeli. And I have much to desire for Israel."

Edda Tandler

Edda comes from a wealthy, cosmopolitan, non-religious family from Zagreb. Her father owned a leather wholesale business. By the time she was a high-school student, she had already become active in the ha Shomer ha-Zair movement, where she met her future husband, Joel. Her two sisters, who both studied medicine, were involved with the Communist Party of Yugoslavia. "At the time it was fashionable to be a leftist; our models were the Soviet Union and the Spanish Republic. We came from the bourgeoisie, but we wanted to build up socialism--not in Yugoslavia, however, as my sisters did, but in Palestine." As a fervent socialist and Zionist, Edda rejected studying at the university as a "bourgeois" thing to do and became an apprentice to a seamstress. She wanted to prepare herself for a proletarian life in a kibbutz in Palestine.

She travelled to Palestine as a tourist in 1938 and married pro forma to obtain a residence permit. In the kibbutz she had her first encounter with the Arab population: "One day, as we were bringing in the harvest, I saw a group of Arabs with quite a bit of luggage sitting under a tree. I asked them what they were doing there, and I was told that their land had been bought up by the kibbutz. The greater part of the land in Palestine belonged to feudal lords, who lived in Paris, for instance. When they sold their land to the Jews, the fellahin who had lived on and worked it for generations had to leave." Edda felt that her ideals were being betrayed and left the kibbutz. Together with Joel, she sought the company of like-minded people, and found it in the Communist Party, which was still banned at the time. Edda and Joel went to Cairo, where both of them worked for British radio as presenters and journalists.

In 1949 they had to leave Egypt, as they were considered to be undesirable aliens. Without passports--British Mandate papers were no longer of any use--they nevertheless managed to make it to Italy, where they obtained new entry papers for Israel. Once they were there, they could not work for a radio station, because there was no radio in Israel yet. So Edda started working as a seamstress again and stayed in this profession until she retired. "If you have a sense of justice, you simply have to stand up for the Palestinians. We have always been nonconformists, outsiders." Edda states a simple reason for why a large part of the population has come to support the peace process: "Irrespective of their political outlook, nobody any longer wants to spend one month a year doing military service until the age of fifty."

Joel Tandler

"Working as a carpenter frees the mind," he says. Despite his age, Joel still works every day as a manager in a large carpenter's workshop. Most of the 80 or so employees are Palestinians from the occupied territories. "I'm their Wailing Wall," says Joel. The Palestinians hold him in high esteem as a humanist, and this helps them overcome the barriers between their mostly conservative and nationalistic sentiments and his libertarian and internationalist outlook. Like Edda, Joel comes from a solid middle-class Jewish family. His youth in Yugoslavia took a similar course. As the first Jewish apprentice in a trade school in Zagreb, he learned to be a carpenter, and eventually, in 1939, he waded to the shore near Haifa as an illegal immigrant. After a short intermezzo in the kibbutz--"in my eyes, the kibbutz is an old- age home for young people"--Joel got the opportunity in 1941 to work as a presenter for a British radio station.

In 1949, after his stay in Egypt and his subsequent return to the young state of Israel, this career was over. He began working as a carpenter again. "Today I see the same problems for the Palestinians that we had back then in the emerging state of Israel. Nationalism obscures the unequal distribution of wealth in society. If all you set out to do is to solve the nation issue first, then everything else will fall behind. Nationalism overshadows all reasoning. In 1967 even dedicated socialists danced in the streets and celebrated our victory." As with the others, the Jewish-Arab wars have left a deep and lasting impression on him as turning points. Joel and Edda, along with other sympathizers, tried in vain to prevent numerous expropriations of Arab land in Israel and the occupied territories by participating in symbolic occupations in protest. Joel has not given up the hope for a more humane social order. "The French Revolution didn't bring about everything all at once either. There has to be a more just distribution of wealth on a global scale."

Looking back on his life, Joel feels he can take his children as a yardstick. They have a different political outlook, but they respect their parents for their ideals and are proud whenever Edda and Joel have just been involved in another peace activity.

Joseph Walk

"I have always had the good fortune to be in the minority. I was in the minority as a Jew in Germany and as a religious Jew among Jews. I was in a minority among the religious Jews because I was a Zionist, and I was in a minority among the religious Zionists because I was a socialist." Why did he consider that to be fortunate? "Minorities have the advantage that they are forced to think. You have to keep on making sure that you are on the right track."

Joseph Walk was born in Breslau (Wroclaw) in 1914. He grew up in a family that was both Zionist and religious. While he was a child, a picture of Theodor Herzl hung over his bed. He sees himself as a link in the long chain of Jewry. "My ancestors could have taken the easy way out," he says. "They would have only had to walk over the bridge to join the majority, instead of doing this, they held on to their Jewishness, with all the difficulties this entailed. If I were to break out, the whole chain would have lived in vain." When he was young, Joseph Walk taught at Jewish schools in Germany. He and his family settled in Palestine in 1936.

As he does every morning, he is now sitting in his study in the Leo Beck Institute in Jerusalem, which he had headed for many years. The institute was founded over forty years ago by a group of German-born Zionists, among them Martin Buber and Gershom Scholem, who both advocated a peaceful dialogue with the Palestinians. The work of the institute consists of preserving the spiritual heritage of the German Jews. As a Jewish History professor, Joseph Walk is used to an exchange of views with people who think differently. His own daughter heads the religious pirate radio station "Channel 7", which propagates a greater Israel that would extend beyond the Jordan River. After the Six-Day War of 1967 he and like-minded people founded the organization "Strength and Peace", which tries to promote tolerance and understanding. "There will never be any working together, but there can be a working side by side so that there will be no more working against each other." With his commitment he is trying most of all to convince the religious Jewish populaton that the political solution must be "land for peace".

A short while ago, Joseph Walk won the Buber-Rosenzweig Medal for his contribution to the German-Jewish dialogue. After Rabin's assassination, Joseph Walk thinks it is important to show that not all religious Jews are extremists. "Perhaps it's good that a law-abiding Jew [i.e., one who adheres to the laws of Judaism] should win this award for a change, precisely because most law-abiding Jews are not prepared to enter into this dialogue."

Alisa Fuss

Alisa Fuss's entire family fell victim to the Holocaust. It was pure chance that she survived. As a 16-year-old girl she took part in a group trip to Palestine, and stayed. She lived and worked in Israel as a teacher for many years. In 1976 she returned to Germany and has since lived in Berlin, the city of her childhood. One son went with her; another stayed in Israel. It is difficult for Alisa to talk about why she left. When I met her at the beginning of the 80s, after the mass exodus from Lebanon, she was fighting for the right of the Palestinians who had illegally entered West Berlin through East Berlin to stay in Germany. "I am struggling for the rights of the Palestinians. I know what I ?m talking about. I know what it ?s like being pushed around in the world while all of the countries' gates remain closed to you, when you are trying to save the lives of your children and your own life."

For many years Alisa Fuss had fought in the peace movement in Israel for a reconciliation with the neighboring Arab states. The contradictions within Israeli society--the distressing consequences of which were felt even within one's own family: her son was a hero of the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War--were too much to bear for Alisa Fuss. Unlike others, however, she did not withdraw from political life in disappointment. In the 80s she was active in the Berlin Refugee Council for Asylum Seekers. Today, as a co-founder of the Carl von Ossietzky Society, she goes on fighting for human rights. "True redress cannot confine itself to money. True redress means never again to expose human beings to disaster."

Hans Lebrecht

I am visiting Hans and Tosca Lebrecht in their spacious apartment in the northern part of Tel Aviv. Eighty-year-old Hans Lebrecht comes from a family of German Jewish entrepreneurs, who had little to do with Zionism. He established contact with the Communist Party shortly before it was banned and subsequently helped people who were being persecuted by the Nazi regime to cross the border illegally. "I was the black sheep of the family," he says and laughs. As an alleged cadre of a Zionist youth organization that operated special camps to prepare people for Palestine, he had an alibi for his trips back and forth between Germany, Switzerland and France. But after the so-called Reichskristallnacht he, too, was on the black list. His father bought him a one-way ticket, and, in 1938, he entered Palestine as a tourist. His father and his brothers managed to settle down in Chile and the United States. Hans Lebrecht, who was not a dedicated Zionist, followed his girlfriend Tosca, whom he had met in their home town of Ulm in 1936, around on her travels.

Both of them struggled along in Palestine doing casual work, among other things as pickers and street musicians, and eventually had a certain degree of success. Toward the end of 1940, Hans Lebrecht ended up in a British jail for several months as a political prisoner. An Arab inmate in charge of the library there systematically supplied him with Marxist social theory. "Jail was my school of life. I will never forget that highly educated, multilingual Palestinian, who never ceased to emphasize that Jews and Arabs had to join together in a common struggle against imperialism."

In the 50s Hans Lebrecht was almost lynched by an outraged audience when he spoke out against anti-German generalizations, by saying: "Before the Jews came to the concentration camps, hundreds of thousands of Germans had already ended up there." From the beginning Hans and Tosca joined demonstrations against the expropriation of land cultivated by Palestinian farmers in the Nazareth area. During this time he made friends with many Arabs, who, after 1967, helped him in his function as an intermediary between the Jewish and the Jordanian communist party. After he had met with PLO representatives several times within the context of the campaign "Two states for two peoples", the state of Israel charged him with treason. But they had to acquit him. An international campaign for his acquittal helped bring this about.

Hans still works as a journalist for several international daily and monthly papers. His tiny office is equipped with the latest communications technology. Thanks to a computer, a fax modem and the Internet, he is always "on-line". When asked whether he has had a hard life, Hans laughs and says:"Yes, it was hard, but also very nice."

Tosca Lebrecht

Tosca Lebrecht's father, who worked as a cantor in the Jewish community of Ulm, was a Social Democrat and had fought alongside his German countrymen in World War I. From her father, Tosca Lebrecht learned "that Zionism and Socialism didn't go together well", but as the discrimination against Jews flared up, her parents tried everything to bring their daughters to safety. Tosca Lebrecht, who sang in a choir and wanted to study to become a soprano, went to Palestine in 1937 with the help of the Zionist women's organization and initially ended up in a kibbutz for girls. During her first days there she was already confronted with everyday racism. Once, on a bus to Haifa, a woman wanted to trade seats with her, although Tosca's seat didn't seem to have any advantages over hers. So when Tosca asked why, the woman said, "Because I don't want to sit next to a dirty Arab." The dirty Arab turned out to be a well-dressed and well-mannered young man.

In the kibbutz they criticized her for caring for a young Arab girl. "For me the worst thing was to discover that in Palestine there was the same kind of racism as the one I had just fled from." Tosca Lebrecht's parents were murdered. Her sister survived Dachau and came to Palestine in 1945. She married a Moroccan Jew and returned to Germany with him, because she could not bear the degradation of Orientals in Israel any longer. For her sister's sake Tosca gave up her singing lessons in Israel. Today her sister is a well- known singer in Germany, with a large repertoire of Brecht and Yiddish songs.

All her life, 78-year-old Tosca Lebrecht has always spoken her mind. In the 50s she was severely injured when she took part in a demonstration against the rearmament of Germany. The same thing happened to her again in 1994 during a peace rally, which was attacked by rightist groups. Tosca is sitting in her bright living room, surrounded by memories and plants. After a long moment of silence she puts out her umpteenth cigarette and says: "I wasn't born a communist, but life has made me one."

Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery was born in the Westphalian town of Beckum in 1923. As a ten-year-old boy he came to Palestine in 1933. "I grew up in a street that formed the official boundary between Tel Aviv and Jaffa. Both sides of the street were Jewish, but a few blocks further down was where the real Jaffa--the Arab quarter--started. When I was fourteen, I left school and went to work for a lawyer in Tel Aviv. Some of the courts and government agencies were located in Jaffa, and every few days or so I would spend a couple of hours there, meeting with Arab officials, talking to Arab colleagues, strolling down the streets, taking in the scents of the Orient while eating Arabic sweets and listening to that strange language. I liked them. In contrast to most Israelis today, I didn't have to read books and manifestos to know that two peoples live in this country and that they have already been living here side by side for a very long time."

When he was 15 he joined Irgun, the Jewish national military organization operating in the underground, and set British government offices on fire. "From a British perspective I was a terrorist, while in our book I was a freedom fighter. This is a lesson I have never forgotten: Every terrorist is a freedom fighter from one's own perspective, and a freedom fighter is always a terrorist in the eyes of his enemy." The years in Irgun have taught Uri to understand what goes on in the heads of young Palestinians who carry out attacks on Israelis.

As the first Jewish-Arab war broke out, Uri joined the Jewish army. In the last days of the war he was seriously wounded by Egyptian machine gun fire. After the war, in 1949, he began a career as a journalist, and in the 50s the weekly magazine Haolam Hazeh, which he had acquired, became an important voice of opposition in Israel. Although he never made a secret of his being a Zionist, he supported the two-states solution from the beginning as the only possibility for peace in the Middle East. After the 1973 Yom Kippur War was lost, the PLO signalled for the first time that it might recognize Israel and thus support the two-state solution. In the years to follow, Uri Avnery met frequently with PLO representatives and co-founded the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace. From this, the small Scheli party emerged, for which he served as a deputy in the Knesset for a while. Uri Avnery's creed has always been that it is necessary to get a broad sector of the Israeli public to opt for peace. As the majority of the Israeli population was Zionist in his opinion, the peace initiative had to be of a Zionist nature.

At the height of the Lebanese War, Uri Avnery met with Yassir Arafat in Beirut as the city was under siege by the Israeli army. Spectacular actions of this kind have made him one of the most famous representatives of the Israeli peace movement.

Hannah Jeremias

I have found Hannah Jeremias in garden full of blossoming flowers, which is surrounded on all sides by newly built houses. "Once you used to be able to walk straight to the sea from here, but that's over now," she laughs. "Once" means sixty years ago, when the beaches of Nahariya, which is located only a few kilometers south of the Lebanese border, were completely deserted and the place only had 35 inhabitants. It was back then that Hannah Jeremias came here with her husband Benjamin, who, as a horticultural engineer, was charged with draining the swamps and preparing the land for cultivation. Today Nahariya is a well-kept seaside resort for wealthy tourists. "If we wouldn't have received our land as compensation, we would not have been able to build our new house here in 1980." Up to that point, the two had been living in a simple wood house, where for decades visitors from all over the world would stream in and out.

Hannah Jeremias was born in Berlin in 1911. At the early age of eleven she was already a member of the Jewish youth movement and was referred to preparatory training for emigrants to Palestine after graduating from a girls' high school. Her parents, who had already lived in Palestine before, were eager to return there as soon as possible. Hannah received training in child care and, upon their arrival in Palestine in 1931, she went to the Givat Brenner Kibbutz. Perhaps she would have stayed in the kibbutz forever if Benjamin hadn't shown up one day. The two of them teamed up and married in 1932. While Hannah was busy setting up a kindergarden in view of the steadily growing population, Benjamin assumed numerous administrative tasks and took charge of the water supply. He was a regular visitor in the neighboring village of Masraa, and it was thanks to his intervention that its inhabitants avoided being driven out in 1948. In an unprecedented move, he distributed Jewish identity cards to the Palestinians. Lifelong friendships between Hannah and Benjamin Jeremias and some of the Palestinian families developed during this time. The two started organizing Jewish-Palestinian gatherings. On these occasions Benjamin liked to recount how much his mother in Berlin used to be afraid of Arabs and how, just out of spite, the first person he talked to during the crossing to Palestine was an Arab.

In the 50s their house became a meeting place for the first young Germans, most of whom came to Israel carrying a backpack. This prompted the two to found a society to promote international exchanges. In 1968 Hannah and Benjamin Jeremias travelled to Germany with the first mixed Jewish-Arab youth group, and which was to be followed by many others. Not everyone approved of their activities. There were suspicious questions about the purpose of this whole business with the Arabs. "You're only afraid of the things you aren't familiar with", says Hannah Jeremias, who raised a foster child from the neighboring Arab village. Benjamin Jeremias died in 1992. Even today Hannah regularly visits her friends in the Palestinian villages of Galilee. Suddenly our conversation is interrupted by news of the bomb attack in front of the Dizengoff Shopping Center in Tel Aviv. There were numerous casualties. Benumbed we watch live reports on television. The pleasant atmosphere and the laughter over all the jokes her son Uri made during lunch in his small restaurant are now little more than a distant dream. Suddenly Hannah looks at me and says: "Can you imagine, this is what our life as Jews and Israelis is like. Pain and Joy lie very close together."

The dramaturgical concept

For the filmic approach to this selection of contemporary witnesses I believe Eberhard Fechner's montage films may provide a suitable working method, which sets the protagonists in relation to each other and shows how their personal life stories and history in general are linked together. Fechner describes his approach as "filmic narratives, in which a series of people recount something, mostly stories from their own lives, and the whole thing then produces a picture. But not only in the sense of `What happened there' but also "why did something happen there "and `What was their inner reaction to it'."

I intend to conduct the same interview with all the protagonists, and, as the thread of the interview, I will be asking questions pertaining to their life story in the context of the history of Palestine or Israel respectively. Both have influenced each other and cannot be conceived as something distinct from the other. Very much in line with Fechner's approach, the important thing to me is not the historical truth but subjective recollection. Recollection is shaped by subjective feelings, which are always in flux, constantly changing. By asking all of my protagonists the same questions I will get some overlap, which if concentrated, will provide a different perspective on what actually happened, on how everything fits together.

My questions will first concentrate on childhood and youth as well as the sociocultural environment in which the protagonists grew up and in which they were first confronted with their being different from the others. At what point did they decide to go to Palestine and burn all the bridges to their native countries behind them and what was the reason for this decision? How did they gain a foothold in Palestine and what difficulties did they come across while doing so? I will ask them why they concerned themselves with the situation of the Arab population and how this influenced their actions. My questions will focus on the different phases of the establishment and consolidation of the state of Israel and the extent to which the protagonists were personally involved. The five wars and the occupation of Palestinian territories will play just as important a role in this as the attempts of an originally tiny minority to bring about a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. My questions will also focus on the enormous pressure to which my contemporary witness were--and still are--subjected. And finally, the questions will concentrate on what is left of their personal utopias and to what extent peace in the Middle East will bring about changes in the inner structure of Israeli society.

By way of montage, the narratives will then be interwoven. A series of individual destinies will become the common experience of a generation. The women among my contempoarary witnesses, for instance, were influenced by the pioneering spirit of the 20s and 30s, which allowed women a much more active role in society. By applying Fechner's montage principle, I will be seating my "protagonists together at an imaginary table, irrespective of time and space, by virtue of their alternating discourse on the topic. By means of this fictive dialogue, statements can gain additional force as they are complemented, explained or elaborated by others, or conflicting positions can gain contour as different opinions are juxtaposed." (Egon Netenjakob on Eberhard Fechner's montage)

Let me provide an example to illustrate this method: Almost all the protagonists experienced the first conscious encounter with the indigenous Arab population as something that has had a deep impression on them and a lasting influence on their lives. Applying Fechner's form of montage, I can concentrate, at his point, the various recollections of the same experience, bringing out a core that sets itself off from the ignorance which predominated among the Jewish immigrants and points to the historic roots of the mental blocks which to this day make communication between Jews and Palestinians so difficult.

The interviews will be conducted in the protagonists' normal environment. To the rhythm of the narrative, images will be shown of the urban districts, landscapes and villages in which the narrators have lived for decades and of which they have become a part in the course of time. Their narrations will be interspersed with photographs from their personal collections and additional photographic and film material, part of which is already available to me. There is some early documentary material, part of which is from the Jewish photographer and filmmaker Helmar Lerski, whose work captured life in Palestine on the Jewish and the Arab side in the 1930s. His film about young people in the kibbutz can be interwoven with the experiences of my protagonists, almost all of whom spent some time in the kibbutz when they first arrived in Palestine. In Israeli and German film archives specializing in Jewish and Israeli history, I have found plenty of material to document the topics and events which my protagonists will touch upon up to the present day. I can certainly also imagine using not only documentary material but also sequences from feature films which bring out certain correlations more clearly: "In many cases the feature film is a richer, more complete reflection of reality... than the documentary in its pure form." (Jerzy Bossak)

Thus, for instance, the recounting of certain events during one of the wars and their consequences for Israeli-Palestinian relations can be interwoven with brief feature film and documentary excerpts, whereby the shots from the feature films and documentaries can complement each other.

There were situations in the lives of my contemporary witnesses that they all experienced in a similar way and that molded them. Their feelings can be brought out in short staged sequences: the departure from Europe into an uncertain future, last glances at the ports of Trieste and Odessa, shown through the lense of the camera, cross-cutting between the ship and the city disappearing on the horizon. These decisive experiences of existential significance constitute markers and turning points in the individual life stories and the general course of history. Using historical and new material, I want to document these breaking points and expose the images to the field of tension generated by descriptions from memory.

"Memory is not truth; after all memory changes continuously. It is not what has happened but what I imagine or want to have happened." (Eberhard Fechner)

By letting my witnesses tell their version of the history of Palestine and Israel, I will be depicting reality as it was experienced by them subjectively. From the sum of subjectively experienced realities emerges the search for truth, the attempt to come one notch closer to reality.

Robert Krieg, Cologne, March 1996