On Wednesday, March 5, at 4 PM, George Iskandar, his wife, and his little six-year-old son were standing in front of our school getting some information about the school from Andrew Guiness, GEV board member.

George is an actor who lives in Haifa, Israel. For six years he has been a member of Yael Ronen’s theatre production “The Third Generation” – from the Habima National Theatre in Tel Aviv. For the third time, George comes to Berlin to perform with the theatre group at the Berliner Schaubühne, Lehniner Platz. That’s where we met him, last Monday, after the show.

The show is a work-in-progress production with the aim to put the “Gordian Knot” of three generations of three nations on stage: Germans, Israelis, and Palestinians. All the actors come with a different background; East and West Germans, Israelis “with different origins”, Arab Israelis with or without an Israeli passport.  “As well as discussing the Here and Now, they focus on those years that lay down the roots about ourselves today. Concepts like memory, guilt, what makes a victimizer and what make a victim, and what those concepts mean to us now, both in their public and their private use, are scrutinized.” (Third Generation, Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz, 2008/09)

Students from the Middle East Peace Project of our school together with Mr. Sculz and Mr. Jovasevic and me went to the see the play last Monday evening. After the show, we were standing in the entrance hall and coincidentally got in touch with George Iskandar, the Christian Palestinian George in the play. After a small conversation it was clear that we would see each other very soon. George was delighted to come to our school and discuss with students about his experience as an actor of this theatre project and as a Palestinian living in Haifa.

Not so many students were sitting in the school club, in our basement, that Wednesday afternoon. It was too spontaneous to recruit more interested pupils for this meeting. Therefore, the talk was deep and intense.

George told us how he got in contact with the Yael Ronen’s project, six years ago. He lives in Haifa and is a so-called Arab of 1948, meaning his parents didn’t leave the country after the Nakba ( Arabic = catastrophy) . He has an Israeli passport although he feels Palestinian. This is his identity. He told us how strange it is sometimes to go by train from Haifa to Tel Aviv and to feel eyes and ears on you when you are talking in Arabic. It bothers him that Israelis seems to feel so uneasy, so uncomfortable listening to the Arabic language since they are living together on this ground for more than 65 years. There is also a big difference: mostly all Palestinians know Hebrew but only a few Israelis speak Arabic. So for us Germans, it seems that the anxiety could disappear if both people knew the language of the other. (But, we have the same attitude. Not many Germans know Turkish. That’s why Turkish people are also confronted with lots of prejudices.)

George was born in Haifa and grew up in a very multicultural area. He grew up with Jews, made friends with Jews. For him, there was no difference although there was and still is a difference. His wife, a drama and dance teacher, expressed it in this way: Sometimes, you really feel that you are not  enough, “that you are inferior in comparison to an Israeli”. A feeling that she experienced when she went to  university.

When his agent told him about the theatre project, George was not sure if he would like to take part in it. His parents never spoke about the past. They didn’t want to influence their son’s life with their own sorrowful experiences. Therefore, he didn’t know if he could stand the confrontation with the past and memory of Jews, Germans, and his own people’s memory. To come together as a team, all the actors went through a hard probationary time. But finally, they made it and he is still a member of this group and it seems that he is proud of being in it.

George also mentioned that the first idea of the project was without Palestinians. He himself did not precisely know why they decided to open the project to Palestinians. For us, it seems that a part would have been missing if the play would only occur with the German and the Israeli position.

Now, George is at the point to say that he needs a break from Israel and Palestine and the conflict. He is getting tired, almost bored to be daily confronted with humiliation and the ever searching for peace. Although he believes in peace. His own childhood experience showed him that it is possible to cope with Israeli and that Israeli can cope with Arabs. Now, as a father, he and his wife would like to live a while outside of Israel, maybe in Berlin. Berlin seems to him a very cosmopolitan and open city.

The question about his identity was easy to answer for him: His identity is made by the identity of his parents and their identity is made by their parents. You can’t deny your identity. It is very important for him not to live a life as a fake. Sometimes you try to be another person, but you can’t deny your own identity. Yes, for him national identity is helpful and necessary. For him, you can only understand the problem of other people if you know who you are. What is your identity? Yes, even living his whole life together with Israelis, he has not an Israeli identity.

OK, what is identity? Can you change your identity? Students and visitors have a common answer: No. You can’t change your identity. It is something deeply inside you. It is made of your family’s memory and the cultural environment where you grew up.  And character? What is the difference between character and identity? Is there any difference? And again, all know that there is a difference. You can try to change your character but you can’t change your identity?

But – what happens with people who have two nationalities – what nationality – what national identity is stronger? Now, the students discuss and talk of their own experiences. Niklas was born in Germany and spent some important years of his childhood in Jordan. Hettie is bothGerman and English. Maggie is also in between, American from her mother’s side and Turkish from her father’s side. And their identity – it depends on the parents – all say – so – finally George is right in explaining to us that his identity is made by his parents and theirs by his grandparents!

George and also the students know well the feeling to feel at home. George’s wife adds that she feels more at home when she is in Ramallah. Everybody speaks Arabic, no language difference in the streets. Hettie and the other students admit that feeling at home is connected with childhood experiences, the smell, the taste of special food. And that is also a part of your identity.

The food – yes, this is a strong feeling of identity. All agree. There was much more to talk about – but time is running out. George has to go back to the theatre. It is the last performance for this year, here in Berlin. We all hope that we will see each other very soon. It was an amazing afternoon. Thank you for being with us, George Iskandar.

Any questions?

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  • Pfalzburger Straße 30 (P30), 7-13
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20.04.2018 Nelson-Mandela-Schule · Staatliche Internationale Schule Berlin | Nelson Mandela School · State International School Berlin