“I Am an Israel-Based Storyteller Promoting Peace in the Middle East”
Who am I?
My name is Sarah Arnd Linder. I am Jewish (my father is Israeli and my mother is Danish), and I’ve been living in Israel for the past nine years. I never thought I’d move here, but I came here for school and almost immediately became interested in the gender aspect of the conflict here. I thought women approached solutions differently, and so I began conducting interviews with Palestinian and Israeli women and created a project called the Political Is Personal/ Israel + Palestine.
My goal is to uplift Israeli + Palestinian women’s voices, reveal hidden sides of the conflict, demonstrate that the political here is indeed political and further expose the hurt and damage caused by the conflict. I am considered a leftist, which is difficult, because the word “leftist” is like a bad name here. Some think that leftists are worse than terrorists. Sometimes I just would like to get the h*ll out of here and to tell them all to solve this conflict themselves. But there are so many good initiatives here and a lot of potential. Plus, all the talks and discussions that I have with all of these women, who have agreed to reveal their lives to me – it all keeps me going.
What exactly do I do?
I conduct interviews with any Palestinian and Israeli woman (18 years old and above), who is interested in being interviewed. Those interviews are conducted face-to-face, via email, Facebook, Skype or phone depending on the circumstances. After the interviews, I write the individual “story” of the interviewee in a specific structure and with headlines of the topic that the interviewee discussed with me, but I try to make the story as “raw” as possible by not working too much on how the interviewee expressed herself. I want the words to be as truthful as possible and as close to what was said to me as possible. It’s not my story, but theirs. Due to the sensitivity of the topics, the stories either include the first name of the interviewee or are completely anonymous depending on the interviewee’s wishes. In addition to this, I always send the draft to the interviewee for her approval, and if she wishes for anything to be omitted, changed or added, I do so and send back drafts, until I am given a final approval.
For now the project “only” exists on Facebook, but I plan on having a website built shortly and to have all the content translated into Arabic and Hebrew to make surethat Palestinians and Israelis, who do not understand English fluently, are able to read these stories. In the future, I may also have the content translated into additional languages to widen the audience. When I have published more stories, I plan to have them published in a very simple book, which will include the stories and additional information pertaining to the interviewees, the conflict and gender perspectives, as well as other topics. In the meantime, I see the project as ongoing, and I plan to continue with the interviews and the stories and to have more and more published.
Tell us about any transformative moments you’ve experienced during this project.
About two months ago, I interviewed four different women within one week, which was quite intensive, because the interviews take up a lot of my energy, as I really sit for one, two or three hours internalizing what is being said to me by the interviewee while typing on my laptop non-stop. I recall one particular interview with a woman who had a completely different background than myself. Throughout the interview she revealed a lot of personal details about her life, and I also ended up sharing some parts of my life, which I sometimes do in the interviews. At one moment in the interview I realized that what she had experienced and still does (as a woman) was something that I could relate to fully, although we lived completely different lives. When I left the interview I recall feeling a form of comfort and protection. I felt almost encircled by all these different women that I had interviewed.
What has been most difficult or frightening about the project?
Traveling to the West Bank alone has perhaps required some courage, especially in the recent months with all the heightened tensions. I don’t feel particularly afraid of walking around in the West Bank, although I make sure not to speak any Hebrew at all (and I remove my Star of David – I don’t know, if I would do that if others didn’t tell me to do it). I do dislike the travelling there (it takes hours because of logistics) and going through checkpoints, where I always feel like I look suspicious in some ways.
I also don’t like traveling to Jerusalem (where I have to go to get to the West Bank) because of the heightened tensions there also. It makes me more paranoid and makes me look out for anyone suspicious in crowded places and on buses. I quit my pretty stable full-time job (in a completely different field) in order to work on this venture, so one of the things that I told myself was that if I am choosing to take this risk (especially the financial risk), I absolutely must be doing something that I enjoy most of the time, something that enriches my life and contributes to making me a happy person.
Now months after, I have learnt that this is SO true. I don’t think it’s a selfish thing, especially if I think that what I do can contribute to the lives of others in positive ways, and if I see that I am doing something where I can apply the skills and ideas that I have always wanted to work with.
How do you deal with haters or naysayers?
When people who are against normalization (between Israelis and Palestinians) have criticized the project, as it includes interviews from both Palestinian and Israeli women, it has made me wonder about the ethical aspect of the project. However I expected this form of criticism prior to going into this venture, so nowadays when I receive this criticism, I try to discuss these issues with the people who bring them up.It’s so important for me to have an almost emotional connection to what I do and that the stories are truthful.
This means that quite a few times I take a small break from the work behind the project and ponder a little.
I’ll think about whether the work that I do still serves the initial purpose of PiP or not, and if it continues to enrich my life as well. I want the project and my work to be immersed in the truthfulness, honesty and the openness that PiP is meant for.