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Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Gaza Flotilla Protest X Lowkey (UK)

June 3, 2010 2 comments

A photo essay from the May 31 Manchester protest against Israel’s attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, from the BBC building to central Manchester, set to Lowkey’s anthem “Long Live Palestine” (the first song on iTunes with the word ‘Palestine’ in the title).

DAM in Sheikh Jarrah II: The Remix

June 3, 2010 Leave a comment

For those who caught my piece about DAM’s concert in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, the site of weekly protests against the Israeli government’s eviction of Arab Israelis, here’s an amazing post-script: two Palestinian teenagers, male & female, sitting on a graffiti’d wall in Sheikh Jarrah, one wearing a kufiya, singing the DAM anthem, “Min Erhabi/Who’s the Terrorist?”

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Hamas Hates on Hip Hop

April 26, 2010 Leave a comment

This just in from Haaretz (via Reuters):

Hamas police have broken up the Gaza Strip’s first major hip-hop concert.

The B Boy Gaza group had just started a lively dance set late on Saturday in a crowded auditorium when police from the Islamist Hamas group that rules the Gaza Strip ended the performance with shouts of “the show is over”, witnesses said.

“I told one of the policemen that rap meant respect for all people, but he didn’t seem to be listening. He said it was an immoral dance,” one of the dancers said.

Hamas officials said the performance, in a conservative enclave where most musical shows strike a nationalistic note, was shut down only because organizers had not applied for a police permit for the gathering.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said police confiscated cameras and tapes at the venue and arrested six of the performers. They were released after signing a pledge not to hold further performances without police permission.

Hamas has denied accusations by Gaza human rights groups that it is trying to impose Islamic law in the enclave where 1.5 million Palestinians live. In public speeches, Hamas leaders have urged Palestinians to adhere to Islamic values.

(Photo Credit: Abigail Hauslohner for TIME)

Narcicyst x SXSW: No Party in Apartheid

March 25, 2010 Leave a comment

For those of us (myself included) who missed last week’s South by Southwest festival, there was one notable event that took place outside of the venues and that was a small but heartfelt protest against a private Israeli consulate party.  The party featured a number of Israeli bands, including the popular Hip Hop act, Soulico, at a club in downtown Austin. However, not everyone found the timing of the party to be particularly appropriate (but since when do Israelis give a F about timing?). Iraqi-Canadian rapper The Narcicyst, alongside Syrian-American rapper Omar Offendum and Palestinian rapper Ragtop, led a rally outside the club, with bullhorns & placards, chanting “Ain’t no party in apartheid!”

The reference to South Africa is apt, in my opinion and from my firsthand observation of the willful isolation of Arabs (read: Palestinians) in Israel. And the protest also strikes me as completely appropriate, if not necessary, given the announcement only a week earlier of the construction of 1600 new Israeli homes in East Jerusalem, an arrogant affront to the world community.

Narcy puts it very succinctly in an interview that was later broadcast on NPR, “Our basic thing is BDS: Boycott Divestment Sanctions. We want the people of Palestine to be represented and for them to have an identification just like everybody else in the world does.”

Here’s a lil video from the protest (thanks to participant Grace Alfar)

One of the members of Soulico, Ronen Sabbo, felt that Narcy and the other protestors were protesting against the wrong people: “They don’t know us personally, they don’t know what we are about. They don’t know that we are trying to do the opposite of any government or of any occupation or establishment. We are trying to do music with people like Arabic MCs, Arabic singers, we have Arabic instruments, and, it’s funny that they demonstrate in front of us as if we’re soldiers. We’re just musicians you know.”

But I have to admit, and Narcy says the same in his own response, the protest is not against the musicians themselves but against a government whose actions they implicitly condone by agreeing to play at their party. Narcy said, “We have no problem, we’re not here to boycott the artists per se, we did research on the artists and checked their work out and it’s not necessarily anything against them, but the Israeli consulate represents the Israeli government, regardless, so you can’t really separate the two.”

Anat Gilead, Israeli consul to the US for cultural affairs, had this to say: “We’re doing culture here. We’re focusing on music and people that music can bring. That is what we’re here for.” But I can’t accept that any thinking person could celebrate culture in the midst of a total disrespect for humanity.

There really is just no party in apartheid (except, unjustly, for the oppressors). The just party will be afterward, when the separation and humiliation finally come to an end and everyone can join, or at least enjoy their own, in peace.

(“Ain’t no party in apartheid” courtesy of Narcy’s excellent blog: http://illuminarcy.blogspot.com/

Photo credit: Laith Majali / Immortal Entertainment (immortalent.wordpress.com/)

DAM in Sheikh Jarrah: Protest re-Imagined

March 15, 2010 1 comment

For several months now, left-wing Israeli and Palestinian protesters have been holding weekly protests in the town of Sheikh Jarrah, in East Jerusalem, to protest the evictions of Palestinian families from their homes in favor of Jewish settlers. Protesters, Arab and Israeli, have been met with police violence, rampant arrests, and regular visits from stone-throwing Orthodox Jews.

Nevertheless, hundreds continue to gather each Saturday in Sheikh Jarrah, among them foreign activists and Arab-Israeli lawmakers. Social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, have been instrumental in raising international awareness about what’s going on in East Jerusalem and keeping supporters informed about the rallies. YouTube and Flickr have also played important roles, allowing for real-time photo/video archiving of the rallies, including aggressive police behavior, arrests, and counter-protests from Orthodox Jews. The video below shows a typical scene from such a rally, beginning with smiling Israeli demonstrators offering a bouquet of flowers to the chief of police, and ending with police getting aggressive with demonstrators at the end of the rally and Orthodox Jews approaching.

The day before, the Palestinian rap superstars, DAM (Da Arabian MCs) gave a free performance in Sheikh Jarrah (promoted by the International Solidarity Movement) that drew a large crowd as well, though no arrests or violence (though the concert did lead to the police declaring the next day’s rally unauthorized, citing a regulation that allows only 1 public assembly per week).

Their underlying message was the same as that of the protesters, though the words they used go beyond a simple chant to the complex rhyme scheme of their 2001 anthem, “Min Irhabi/Who’s the Terrorist?”, which frames the rhetorical conundrum of the powerless Palestinian being accused of terror by those who terrorize (the Israeli government) by evicting families from their homes:

Who’s a terrorist?
I’m a terrorist?!
How am I a terrorist when you’ve taken my land?
Who’s a terrorist?
You’re the terrorist!
You’ve taken everything I own while I’m living in my homeland
You’re killing us like you’ve killed our ancestors
You want me to go to the law?
What for?
You’re the Witness, the Lawyer, and the Judge!
If you are my Judge
I’ll be sentenced to death
You want us to be the minority?
To end up the majority in the cemetery?
In your dreams!

The question this raises for me is one of the effectiveness of public assembly and how, in the Imagination Age, we can understand political protest in the form of cultural performance. By drawing a crowd of young people to a live music event, where the focus was on the artists and their words, not on confrontation with the police or with Orthodox Jewish settlers, the organizers of the DAM show in Sheikh Jarrah achieved, in my opinion, a level of political statement as strong as any other. This type of event allows the call for justice to be sounded without inciting violence, and offers an alternative means of contextualizing the conflict within the minds of young audiences, wherein the arts are seen as a viable form of protest, and an alternative to physical conflict. It is yet another powerful example of music being used as a political tool in the Middle East, with Hip Hop leading the charge.

In comparing these two events in Sheikh Jarrah, neither of which received much attention in the press nor any official response from the Israeli government, how do we then measure their relative effectiveness? I would argue that the events were most effective in tandem,  expanding a traditional protest event into a multi-dimensional, cultural happening and linking cultural expression to an ongoing political struggle. With the dissemination of photos and videos via social media and crowd-sourcing platforms, both events succeeded at reaching local and international audiences in a way that they never would have been able to achieve through traditional news coverage. Furthermore, the coupling of diverse events around a single cause augments the dimensions of the overall campaign by offering multiple points of engagement for activists, supporters, and observers. In the case of Sheikh Jarrah, Hip Hop has added that dimension of cultural engagement and, in so doing, expanded the local base of support and the global impact of the movement. Whether this model of public protest will eventually eliminate the need for traditional physical confrontation is almost irrelevant. What is important here is that the legacy of young people rallying around political art is alive and well in the Imagination Age.

Photo credits: (above) Brady Ng (via Palestine Monitor), (top) Uruknet.info

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Israel x Obama: Yes, We Can (co-opt the brand)

March 2, 2010 Leave a comment

Having just returned from a week and a half in Israel, I’m torn over how I want to portray what I observed there. And perhaps that is the only true portrayal that I can give, one of a land torn in at least three directions: by ultra-Orthodox Jews, Arab Muslims, and those who want nothing to do with either and just want to live a secular life. This comes as no surprise to anyone who follows Middle East politics, though what did come as a surprise to me was the lack of positive (read: non-violent) interaction between these groups on a quotidian basis. No matter what city I was in, there remains a stark separation between Orthodox Jews, secular Israelis, and Arabs, with the latter being relegated to hidden enclaves, run-down neighborhoods, furtive shadows in big city streets. My own cousins, secular, progressive Israelis by any measure, have only one regular encounter with Arabs in their neighborhood: their gardener. Even their eldest daughter, who is my age and getting a Masters at Be’er Sheva University, has no Arab students in her social circle, nor any in her classes. These discouraging statistics were reiterated by nearly every Israeli, young or old, that I talked to over the 10 days I was there – even those who claimed to be sympathetic to the “Arab situation”. And don’t even try getting ultra-Orthodox Jews to interact with anyone else or anyone to interact with them. They live completely isolated from the rest of the world and everyone in it. So how can these three groups hope to live together in any kind of peace if they don’t even attempt to interact with one another on a daily, non-political basis? Call me naive, but I had hoped to see a little more integration, especially among young people, by 2010. After all, if the US can elect a black man to the White House…

And, sure enough, that black man has already had a powerful impact in Israel, but not necessarily the one that I (or Obama himself) would have hoped. Instead of embracing the Obama message of community engagement and multiculturalism, it seems that Israel is more interested in the Obama brand, as evidenced by this commercial for one of the big Israeli TV networks, YES:

Apparently, the YES network will be offering new shows and more stars this season and viewers should be as excited about this as the smiling black couple and their enthusiastic supporters dancing across the White House lawn. Clearly, this has nothing to do with the original “Yes We Can” message but the cynicism that such a shameless commercial appropriation demonstrates caused me a moment of anger and resentment at the whole Israeli people for trading in a noble sentiment of collective strength for a convenient TV slogan. It’s the same resentment I felt towards the incumbent Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, when he completely co-opted the Obama website, without actually embracing the spirit, let alone the politics, of Obama himself. This kind of slick appropriation of the Obama brand and style, in my opinion, evidences a larger theme of Israeli smugness in internal and external politics. Another example was the recent sardonic Tweeting by the Israeli Embassy in London “Israeli tennis player carries out hit on #Dubai target”, which was posted on the day the Israeli ambassador was asked to tell the British government if he knew anything about the use of fake passports in the assassination of a Hamas official in Dubai last month. The tweet linked to an article about the Israeli tennis star, Shahar Peer, who reached the semifinals of a tournament in Dubai before losing to Venus Williams. The Israeli Embassy removed the posting as soon as it was reported in the British press, but the ongoing question of Israeli involvement in the assassination remains an unfunny joke to the rest of the world as it is widely understood that the job was carried out by the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad.

While all of this was going on, I was also reading about the violent protests erupting in Hebron over the Israeli government’s announcement that it would extend control over two holy sites within the Palestinian West Bank territory. This may have been just another week in the land of stones and tear-gas but I couldn’t help feeling that the hubris that enables Bibi to snatch holy areas is the same that enables Mossad to take out Hamas leaders in a foreign country, and the same that enables Israelis to go about their lives ignoring their neighbors, just watching TV with more stars and shows, saying smugly to themselves, “Yes We Can” But I wonder for how long.

To be fair, I did hear the Obama slogan one other time last week from an earnest falafel-maker in Tel Aviv. He was not trying to sell me anything (besides falafel) but instead wanted to convey his genuine belief in what Obama could mean for the world. It restored in me a modicum of faith that there can still exist in the holy land hope for a better day, when overcoming human differences can lead to peace. Thank you, falafel man. I hope you’re right.

Doc X Narrative: “Ajami”

February 16, 2010 Leave a comment

My first two tweets coming out of seeing “Ajami“, the Oscar-nominated Arab-Israeli film, praised its rare, “portrayal of Arab & Israeli male aggression AND vulnerability” as well as the decentered, interweaving narrative structure. The more I’ve thought about the film (and seen it again), the more I’ve come to appreciate the way that the 1st time directors, Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani, made such portrayals possible through their brave fusion of documentary and narrative forms. To begin with, they shot most of the film on location in the rough neighborhood of Ajami, in the city of Jaffa, after which the film is named. Those two decisions alone, location and title, ground the film in an environment that actually exists and call it by its name. This removes any doubt about where we are and how constructed the story is going to be. It’s as if the directors are saying, from the outset, “This is not a true story but it might as well be.”

With their world already set, Copti and Shani chose to cast mostly non-professional actors from the neighborhood of Ajami. This is a hugely ballsy move, especially for first-time directors, but it pays off in spades as the characters in the film consistently behave and speak in ways that are not at all ‘larger than life’ but rather completely life-like. The directors spent a year in workshops with the cast, placing them in dramatic situations and encouraging them to act exactly as they would in real life, using language that they would use in real life.  For the film itself, they often worked without a script or without telling the actors what was going to happen next, so as to elicit the most pure, gut reactions. That is exactly what they got and it makes for some of the most gripping emotional performances I’ve ever seen on the big screen.

Naturally, an authentic location and authentic neighborhood cast call for an authentic shooting style, which “Ajami” delivers through the lensing of Boaz Yehonatan Yaacov. The roving, handheld style places the viewer squarely in the middle of the action, never quite certain what’s coming next or from which direction. Mr. Yaacov is an excellent student of the cinema-verité school and takes it to another level, becoming almost an extension of the raw, unpredictable action of the characters.

But perhaps the most impressive (or, at least, notable) meta-narrative operating within “Ajami” is that of the film’s creators, Copti and Shani, whose own collaboration creates an aura of hope around an otherwise tragic tale. Copti, an Arab Christian who was raised in the Ajami neighborhood and followed in his father’s footsteps to become an engineer, discovered a passion for filmmaking when a friend asked him to collaborate on a short film about their neighborhood. He later met Shani, an Israeli Jew, who had attended film school in Tel Aviv and ran a student film festival, for which he encouraged local youths to make films about their environment. The two found in eachother a creative soul mate and embarked on writing the screenplay that would become “Ajami“. They worked on the project for four years, while holding down day jobs, and eventually cobbled together financing from German and French film finance companies, as well as a grant from the Israeli Film Fund, just enough to shoot for 3 weeks.

When the film premiered at the Jerusalem Film Festival last summer, it brought down the house and was immediately hailed as the film of the year, which it won (as well as Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Editing) at the Israeli version of the Oscars, the Ophir Awards. It has since been nominated for Best Foreign Film for the upcoming Academy Awards.

I’ll resist the urge to wax political about the lessons that can be drawn from the success of this Arab-Israeli, Christian-Jewish, Euro-Israeli collaboration. Suffice it to say that such lessons are abundant, but not nearly as significant, perhaps, as the artistic triumph that was achieved by the brave co-directors. On second thought, “artistic triumph” is far too lofty a description of what they did. Instead, I’d like to qualify their triumph as one of truth and honesty in storytelling. Whether documentary or fiction, scripted or improvised, the boundaries of filmmaking in the Imagination Age are not only expanded by advancements in technology (read: “Avatar”) but, maybe more so, by the filmmakers themselves who are willing to forego the artifices of cinema and lay bare the raw humanity of everyday life on film. For me, this was the true power of “Ajami“, the willful blurring of that antiquated line between art and reality.

Watch the trailer and then go see the film.