With the Israeli and Palestinian conflict approaching its 60th year, the youth of Israel are finding new ways of communicating their experiences. For both Palestinians and Israelis, hip-hop has proven to be an effective tool in expressing their frustration, experiences, fears and hopes with their peers and the world (Vens 1). Middle Eastern hip-hop culture began developing in the early 1990’s and has become increasingly popular in the region (Vens 1). In recent years, Israeli and Palestinian hip-hop artists have been emerging in great numbers with varying opinions on the situation in the Middle East. Hip-hop has been adopted because of its universality— most teenagers in the region and around the world have been exposed to hip-hop through popular culture (Vens 1).
Hip-hop was invented by African Americans as a mode of expression and a way to raise awareness about issues of discrimination in American society. Palestinian youth see a parallel with their experiences and those of African Americans when addressing issues of oppression, violence, poverty, rage and frustration over the conditions in which the Israeli occupation has compelled them to live (Vens 3). For the Israeli youth hip-hop is also an outlet in which they express their frustrations with their history of persecution, the threats of those who challenge and reject their existence, and also as a way of justifying their right to the land (Vens 1). The content of Middle Eastern hip-hop is therefore more similar to older American artists like Run DMC and Public Enemy who rapped about social issues, as opposed to today’s mainstream hip-hop which is highly focused on sexuality and materialism (Vens 3).
Although hip-hop in the region seeks inspiration from American experiences, there are some significant differences. The words and messages of Israeli and Palestinian hip hop are greatly influenced by the culture and political situation in the region. Israeli rappers rap in Hebrew and Palestinians in Arabic although at times they use English or the other’s language in their lyrics (Hartwig 3). The language they use is very important to their music because it gives them a sense of authenticity and enables their Middle Eastern listeners to connect with the music. For both of them hip-hop is the voice of the voiceless—“used to tell their version of the story” (Khazzoom 3). In this paper, I will explore and compare the music of Hadag Nahash, an Israeli group, and D.A.M, a group from Palestine, in order to find some parallels and differences between the content of Israeli and Palestinian hip-hop, in relation to the conflict.
Hadag Nachash literally means “snake fish” in Hebrew and is also a Hebrew pun for “new driver” (Khazzoom 1). The group chose their name for the reason of confusing authorities who would perceive their bumper sticker as a security measure as opposed to advertising (Khazzoom 1). The group is comprised of eight members; Sha’anan Streett, Guy Mar, David Klimes, Moshe Asraf, Yair Coheri, Amir Ben Ami, Shlomi Alon and Stephen Hyde (Khazzoom 1). They are considered on the best Israeli hip-hop artirts and their popularity skyrocketed because of their provocative lyrics and highly publicized performances on Israeli Music Television (Khazzom 1).
The group is also recognized for their diversity because four of their members are Jews from Morroco, Yemen and Iran which gives them a unique perspective and experience with the conflict (Khazzoom 2). They are also famous for being leftist because they question and challenge the innocence of Zionism by depicting Israeli leaders such as Theodore Herzl taking drugs and engaging in other questionable behaviors (Khazzoom 4).
Their style of rap can be compared to that of Snoop Dog, Beastie Boys and Warren G in usage of beats and delivery (Khazzom 2). However, their lyrics are usually about terrorism, religious animosity, and trying to live a normal life despite the conflict (Hartwig). The song by Hadag Nahash I will be analyzing is “The Bumper Sticker.” The content of the song was derived from the many positions on the conflict, as expressed through the bumper stickers Israeli’s post on their cars (Khazzoom 4). In this song they show the many perceived underlying problems that need to be addressed in order to establish peace. Their portrayal of these different ideas can be viewed as a means of challenging Israeli’s to question their beliefs and determine the best way of resolving the conflict.
The ideas from the first bumper sticker are about a generation of Israeli youth yearning for peace. However, they also want the Israeli Defense Force to win and “mow down” the Palestinians. This idea shows the bias and impracticality of some Israel’s view of a resolution. They want peace as long as it works entirely in their favor; yet, when lasting peace is desired, one must be willing compromise and accommodate some of the wishes of the enemy in order to reach a consensus. This unwillingness to compromise is one of the hindrances to the establishment of peace in the region (Nachash 1).
The second bumper sticker/stanza expresses the ill perception of the Arabs by some Israelis. The opening line states “there is no peace with Arabs” and “combat-ready is the most bro”. These two lines are representative of the perception that the failure of establishing peace is due to Arab and Palestinian aggression. They also argue that peace is unattainable and all Israeli soldiers and civilians must always be prepared for combat when the Arabs attack. This bumper sticker represents a very militant position that doesn’t entertain the possibility of having Palestinians as part of the solution but exerting Israeli power in order to maintain control (Nachash 1).
The third bumper sticker expresses a lot of criticism toward the Israeli government. It accuses the government of endangering the Israelis by building settlements in the Golan Heights and inciting violence in towns like Yarka. In this stanza there is also a longing for historical leaders who were “Holy” and ruled humanely. These people believe that the holy rulers would perceive the current government and its people as “zealots” and would condemn them to death. This stanza is representative of the leftist Jews who empathize with the Palestinians and believe that the actions of the government and people are morally wrong and contradictory to the teachings of their culture. They may also arguably be considered as extreme leftists because they place the blame entirely on Israeli’s and don’t consider the aggression of some Palestinians (Nachash 1).
The fourth stanza asks the question “how much evil can be swallowed?” This stanza questions how much more the people are willing to give up before they realize that the fighting is only worsening the situation. There is also a plea to God to have mercy on them all and forgive them for the moral corruption they have allowed to take place in their lives. These individuals are of the belief that God does not approve of their continuous fighting and religion cannot be used as justification for their actions. This would be representative of the Israeli’s who are fed up of living in a war zone and fear the judgment and wrath of God (Nachash 1).
The fifth stanza expresses the opinions of those who believe that Zionism has succeeded. The stanza opens with rejoicing that the olden days when the Jews were homeless are long gone and now they have a home. Those who were/are alive to witness the Jewish homeland are considered blessed and those who died before its establishment “missed out.” These Israelis praise the leadership of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and are happy to be reunited with their religious history in Hebron, where King David of the Old Testament established his capital. In this opinion we see an implication of naivety or blindness to the instability that the establishment of Israel has caused in the region. There is no mention of the conflict or situation of the Palestinians just a positive outlook on the actions of Zionism (Nachash 1).
The last stanza represents the view of Israelis who are disappointed with the failure of the international bodies in helping resolve the issue. They begin by accusing CNN of being liars and use sarcastic phrases such as “nice going on the peace” to imply the west’s blind eye to the situation. They argue that they “have no more children left for unnecessary wars” implying that the fighting has lost its meaning and a resolution is needed soon. They perceive the eviction of Palestinians as divisive and urge Palestinians and Israelis to stop valuing land over human beings. The stanza ends with the assertion that the country has no sense of morality and ends with the questioning of how much longer will they allow the conflict to destroy their lives (Nachash 1).
To represent a Palestinian perspective I chose to analyze the group D.A.M. D.A.M. is comprised of three members: Tamar Nafar, Sunhell Nafar and Mahmoud Jreri. All three of them were born in the slum city Lod, infamous for its violence and crime. Their group name D.A.M. has a three part meaning. It is an abbreviation for Da Arabian MC’s, it means blood in Arabic and it also means eternity in Hebrew (D.A.M. 1). They started producing their music in 1998 and quickly gained popularity when their music was featured in the documentary “Slingshot Hip-Hop” by US director Jackie Salloum (Gray 3). Their song “Who’s the Terrorist” also increased their popularity because it was published in Rolling Stone magazine and used in universities worldwide to discuss the different perspectives on terrorism (Gray 3).
D.A.M. are considered one of the most influential Palestinian hip-hop artists today because their lyrics are very controversial in critiquing the Israeli occupation and the Palestinian condition. They describe their lyrical content as “the new intifada, the lyrics are the stones” because music for them is a way of peaceful protest (Egypt 1). The uniqueness of their music has also attracted a wide audience. Their music is a combination of Arabic rhythms, hip-hop and Middle Eastern melodies. Some of their favorite artists are Nas, Mos Def and Tupac and they also seek inspiration from Marcel Khalifa, Kazem Sahar and George Wassouf (Gray 3).
D.A.M.’s song “I Have No Freedom” expresses the Palestinian frustration of living under Israeli control. It begins by expressing how Palestinians are disappointed with the ever continuous peace talks and agreements that have failed to resolve the conflict and the feelings of hopelessness that failure causes. They use the imagery of the stars in the sky in relation to the Star of David which is a constant reminder of their oppression. However, the speakers urge Palestinians to remain strong and optimistic for a resolution. The speaker also asserts that he as a Palestinian cannot be disconnected from the land despite the efforts of the occupation because of the strong bond, compared to that of the olive tree, he shares with his country. The olive tree is used as a symbol of the Palestinian people and encourages them to remain steadfast and continue nurturing branches of hope and peace (D.A.M 1).
The second stanza addresses the frustrations Palestinians have with their leaders. They have tried to rely on them for a solution but their failure to establish peace is forcing the younger generations to become products of war, deprived of the innocence of childhood. The leaders are also accused of “flavoring their speeches” about Palestinian restoration yet they discourage the hope of their people by failing to believe in the reality of their own words. The Palestinian civilians as a result fend for themselves in trying to regain their fate from Israel yet in the long run their situation has only worsened (D.A.M. 1).
The last stanza expresses the Palestinian need for human dignity yet the occupation leaves no room for peace, equality or reconciliation. It only threatens their livelihood. The speaker also accuses the U.S. for enabling the killing of Palestinians by their continuous support for the Israelis. They draw parallels between the Native American experience and their own by claiming that the U.S. is “cleaning the Middle East of its Indians.”(D.A.M. 1) This allegation implies that the West has the power and resources to help stop the conflict but instead have chosen to pick sides. It echoes D.A.M’s belief of the isolation of Palestine from the rest of the world. The Arab world despises the Palestinian’s Israeli citizenship, the Israeli’s mistreat them because of their Arab origins and the international community has ruled in their disfavor in many occasions (D.A.M. 1).
Hadag Nahash and D.A.M.’s songs both represent the opinions of people who are tired of the fighting and oppression and are ready to find a resolution to the conflict. Some of the claims of the threats to Palestinian life in D.A.M.’s music are affirmed by the militant opinions of some Israelis in Hadag Nahash’s music. However Hadag’s song is helpful in that it shows that not all Israelis approve of the treatment of the Palestinians and in fact find fault with Zionism and want peaceful cohabitation.
Both artists also express that they are saddened and drained from the fighting yet they do not propose a definite solution to the conflict. In Hadag’s song there is a mention of possible cohabitation but D.A.M’s song only expresses frustration with the use of peace talks, politicians, generals, and rebellion which have not been successful in establishing a lasting peace. D.A.M’s song also differs from Hadag in that it only represents one Palestinian perspective of the Israeli’s as the aggressors and the Palestinians as the victims. Hadag’s song represents this view as well as several others. This diversity in Hadag’s song may suggest that the Israeli’s have more liberty in entertaining different opinions because they arguably have the upper hand in the conflict while the Palestinians who are subjected to Israeli control perceive the entire situation from one negative opinion.
In the last stanza both the songs criticize the role of the United States in the conflict. Hadag accuses the U.S. of neglecting the core issues of the conflict and D.A.M. accuses them of funding the genocide of the Arabs. This is an interesting accusation by the Israeli because it would be assumable that they would support the actions of the West because the West has supported their cause financially and legally. However, some empathize with the situation of the Arabs and acknowledge the unfairness toward the situation.
The utilization of hip-hop music as a means of protest is nothing new, but its application to the Israeli and Palestinian conflict is phenomenal. Hip-hop in America today has been accused of corrupting and misleading the youth when in Israel it has become a way for the youth to communicate their experiences and express their anger peacefully. The youth in the region and worldwide who have been exposed to its contents will understand better the urgency to find a resolution. This proves that regardless of our differences, suffering affects us all in the same ways because we are all humans. Although these artists don’t propose any solutions to the conflict, the fact that they are educating the world on their experiences will help in causing the world to pay more attention to their livelihoods.
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Khazzoom, Loolwa. “Progressive poetry, in the form of Hebrew hip-hop.” San Francisco Chronicle 15 October 2004 15 April 2008 <http://www.sfgate.com/cgi- bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2004/10/15/EBGCQ959G537.DTL&ty>.
Nachash, Hadag. “The Bumper Sticker Song.” Hebrew Songs Online. 15 Apr 2008 <http://www.hebrewsongs.com/artists-hadagnachash.htm>.
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