Palestinians Set Their Rage to Violent Beat

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Palestinians Set Their Rage to Violent Beat

The True Love gift and music store, which stocks new CDs of protest songs and popular music, in Ramallah, West Bank, Oct. 21 2015.

Ramallah, West Bank:  The Palestinian teenagers who came one after another into the True Love gift and music shop on a recent afternoon all had the same request: nationalistic songs - the new ones.

The proprietor quickly handed over the CDs that he had just started keeping at the checkout counter, like "Jerusalem Is Bleeding," featuring the track "It'an, It'an" - "Stab, stab" - with its ominous backbeat.

"When I listen to these songs it makes me boil inside," said one customer, Khader Abu Leil, 15, explaining that the thrumming score has helped pump him up for near-daily demonstrations where he hurls stones at Israeli soldiers.

Inspired by this month's wave of Palestinian attacks against Israeli Jews and deadly clashes with Israeli security forces, musicians in the occupied West Bank and beyond have produced scores of militaristic, often violent tunes. Published and shared on YouTube and Facebook, they form something of an intifada soundtrack, illustrated by videos that include gritty clips from fresh events.

"Stab the Zionist and say God is great," declares one, a reference to the spate of knife attacks since Oct. 1. "Let the knives stab your enemy," says another. A third is called "Continue the Intifada" and comes with a YouTube warning - the video shows the Palestinian woman who pulled a knife at an Afula bus station surrounded by Israeli soldiers pointing guns.

"Resist and carry your guns," the song urges. "Say hello to being a martyr."

Adnan Balaweneh, the singer-songwriter behind "Continue the Intifada" and four other songs uploaded in recent days, said that when he "saw the soldiers shoot at the girl in Afula" on television, "immediately I felt I needed to write something in order to charge up the Palestinian people."

Palestinians have a tradition of protest music dating to their uprisings against the British in the 1930s. There are mournful poems about liberating the land, and booming anthems for political parties blared at rallies and funerals. During the war in 2014 between Israel and Gaza Strip militants, pulsing celebrations of rocket attacks on Tel Aviv poured from car radios across the coastal territory.

Several Palestinian musical experts said the scale and style of this new oeuvre were nonetheless unusual, fueled - as the uprising itself - by freewheeling social media. Some praised the songs as a constructive and creative form of resistance against Israel, while others said they were weak musically and only give the enemy more fodder for claims of incitement.

"The tool was the stone in the first intifada, and today it's music," said Ramzi Aburedwan, who was famously photographed as a boy throwing a rock in 1988, and now runs music schools in Palestinian refugee camps.

"Sound and words reflect the situation," Aburedwan added. "I can't do a song talking about nature and beauty and peaceful things when I'm seeing every day more than 10 videos where some youths are executed."

But Basel Zayed, a composer, performer and music therapist from East Jerusalem, criticized the instrumentation of the new songs for "using the same fraction of a rhythm and just looping it" and their lyrics as "not very expressive, the main two words are like kill or do or bomb or explode."

"It was done as a reaction, and that's a shame because it gives a very negative picture as to how Palestinians can express themselves," Zayed added. "I don't think coming up with a song so fast serves our message in the best way. It's good to let things sink in first. When you're inside the trauma, you don't really understand what's happening to you."

New tunes pop up online every day, many by little-known artists and with low production values - the YouTube video for "Intifada of Knives" is a crude collage showing the Dome of the Rock with fire underneath and a man with a kaffiyeh covering his face holding a slingshot, then a dagger that eventually is stained with blood. Several simply lay spoken-word rants over Arabic percussion.

Popular stars have also joined the fray: Mohammed Assaf, the Gazan who became a United Nations goodwill ambassador after winning "Arab Idol" in 2013, released "Ya Yumma" on Saturday on YouTube, where by Thursday afternoon it had more than 365,000 views. Assaf's contribution is more lyrical, less explicit, but also draws from recent events with lines like, "There is no perseverance like yours in Jerusalem and Afula."

Then there is "Run Over, Run Over the Settler," created during a series of deadly vehicular attacks a year ago. It was republished Oct. 10 with a remixed video including images from an incident that very day in which a 16-year-old Palestinian was shot dead after slicing the neck of an Israeli Jew outside Jerusalem's Old City.

Balaweneh of "Continue the Intifada" is a 37-year-old father of three whose day job is writing for a Palestinian Authority military-style music troupe. He, too, threw rocks in the first intifada. By the second, which started in 2000, he said he was active "with my poems and with my songs." Now, he does weddings and political events with his trio, "The Storm," which he said is based in the West Bank town of Nablus. He said they were "against violence."

"Our songs are not telling people to go and carry out attacks, our songs are more concentrated on telling people to stand up for their rights, their country, their land," said Balaweneh, who lives in Nablus. "Now, because of the current situation, our songs need to have a lot of action in them, in order to make the blood flow and boil."

Another artist, Qassem al-Najjar of the West Bank village Burin, said, "If I see a certain scene on the TV or hear about a certain event that is very disturbing to me, I can write a song in 15 minutes."

His "Do You Know the Meaning of Intifada?" - which calls for political unity - was first posted on Oct. 9 and had nearly half a million views by Thursday; a coming song - in English - is directed at John Kerry, the American secretary of state.

"Any event that takes place in Palestine, I immediately create a song for it," he said, citing a 2012 tune he wrote during protests against the Palestinian Authority prime minister, Salam Fayyad, and another about Gaza's gas crisis. "I'm doing this as a battle of my own."

Social media is the main outlet for this music, though the songs are also played - along with more traditional nationalist ones - on Palestinian radio and television. Black-marketeers have rapidly burned them onto CDs that go for 10 shekels, or about $2.50, on Ramallah street corners and in stores like True Love.

At the True Love store, near Al-Quds Open University, the owner, Khamees Abu Al Arayas, said he used to get requests for political music maybe once a month. Now, customers ignore the shelves of love songs by famed Egyptian and Lebanese crooners with bare-shouldered women on their CD jackets. Instead, he keeps selling out of "Jerusalem Is Bleeding," which has a cover featuring the Dome of the Rock shielded by barbed wire dripping red.

Older political songs, Al Arayas said, mixed protests of Palestinian oppression with dreamy, more optimistic yearnings. He sees the new ones as more blunt.

"This music is made as a way to make the Palestinian people get up and resist," he said. "The words of these songs, and the music involved with these songs, is a lot more powerful."

He was interrupted by another young customer, asking, "Do you have any nationalistic songs?"

Al Arayas asked if he was looking for anything specific.

"I want something hard-core and new," came the reply. The teenager handed over 20 shekels for two CDs and was gone.


 

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