Hip-Hop in Palestine Similar to South Bronx Birthplace!! 

Written by Gary Lapon, Northampton, MA - A few weeks ago, I saw DAM perform at Hampshire College, where they expressed solidarity with Hampshire Students for Justice in Palestine for pushing their college to divest from the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.

The show was amazing, as DAM brought an energy and achieved a synthesis between MC and audience that gave weight to their statement: “Hip Hop is not dead. It is alive in Palestine.”

I picked up a copy of Slingshot Hip Hop at the show, and have since watched it several times. It is a complex film that holds important lessons and inspiration for those who are the targets and opponents of oppression and repression.

At one point early in the film Tamer Nafar of DAM discusses the decisive influence of Tupac Shakur’s video “Holla If Ya Hear Me,” a stark look at issues such as police brutality, gun violence, racism and poverty. Nafar, although at that time unable to understand the lyrics, felt as though the video was filmed in Lyd, his home.

Later in the film, Nafar explains that the worse the conditions facing an MC, the more powerful their art, and that Hip Hop is a defiant response to oppression and a tool for channeling one’s anger. Holding a copy of Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet, Nafar says, “Here there is a fear of an Arab…nation.”

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DIGGING DEEPER in the crates (I’d recommend Jeff Chang’s Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop as a great place to start), the similarities between the South Bronx, the birthplace of hip hop in the late 1970s, and Palestine, the home of its exciting resurgence in a form that is anything but co-opted, are striking.

Slingshot Hip Hop shows the home demolitions by Israeli bulldozers in Arab areas of Palestine to terrorize Palestinians and make room for Israeli settlers.

In the early 1960s, New York City bulldozers cleared whole neighborhoods and displaced thousands in the predominately Black and Puerto Rican South Bronx to build the Cross Bronx Expressway.

Several artists in the film cite the Second Intifada as a defining moment in their lives that gave birth to or at least shaped and inspired their work today. The Intifada, an uprising that began in 2000 in response to Ariel Sharon’s visit to the al-Aqsa mosque but really marked a popular rejection of the failed Oslo strategy of negotiation and collaboration with Israel, was a mass struggle that utilized a diversity of tactics to resist the Israeli occupation.

In 1977, in the midst of a crippling recession, a blackout in New York City set off rioting and “looting” that was especially intense in poor Black and Latino sections of the city, including the South Bronx. Although not nearly as conscious or defined in purpose as the Second Intifada, the riots were political: they were an expression of the just rage of a people impoverished, brutalized by police, oppressed and displaced.

Just as the Second Intifada was an expression of frustration with Arafat’s failed strategy to win liberation through negotiation, the 1977 riots were an expression of frustration with the failure of the movements of the 1960s and ’70s to provide a solution to the injustice faced by Blacks and Latinos in the inner-cities of the North.

The Second Intifada provided DAM with the political material to compose their breakout 2001 single “Meen Erhabe?” (”Who’s the Terrorist?”), which laid the foundation for political Palestinian hip hop and was downloaded over 1 million times.

The “looting” of 1977 provided many Hip Hop artists with the physical material, sound equipment and turntables, to develop and take the culture “all city” and beyond.

If these connections are surprising, consider that the same government whose police occupy the South Bronx funds Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Martin Luther King Jr. said during Vietnam that bombs dropped overseas explode at home. They still do.

The fact that DAM is playing to packed crowds in the U.S. and Slingshot Hip Hop is opening the eyes of young people to the injustice faced by Palestinians is a reason to be hopeful, as is the outbreak of protest here and around the world in response to Israel’s recent slaughter in Gaza, and the growth of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in its wake.

Just as hip hop is a means to channel anger, we must channel that hope back into the struggle, because if we’re ever going to get freedom here in the U.S., Palestinians need to win freedom in their country.

Our oppressors understand this, hence the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel. It’s time for the oppressed and exploited in Palestine, the U.S., and everywhere else form our own “special relationship.”

Added by: Menace, 03/May/09 | Comments: 1

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