Music scene in Palestinian territories echoes resistance to occupation
This summer has seen a series of wins for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanction (BDS) Movement, particularly in the music scene. In September, 15 international musicians, including US singer Lana Del Rey, pulled out of the Meteor Festival in Tel Aviv.
Del Rey said, because she could not perform in the Palestinian territories, she would pull out of the Israeli show.
US electronic musician Shlohmo, pulling out of the same festival, said: “Sorry to the fans I’m letting down and to the festival staff but supporting the oppressed through my absence is more important to me, especially after the government’s recent human rights atrocities.”
More interesting was action taking place on the grass-roots level. In June, international music platform Boiler Room had its first Boiler Room Palestine featuring a range of local artists. One of the group’s Instagram posts said: “Living in the Ramallah bubble with limited transportation outside of the city, due to military checkpoints, music is a way to escape. The tight collective of friends play in underground parties, at bars and hang out in their home studios.”
This action raised awareness of the conditions of the occupation to thousands of viewers.
The event itself was a powerful statement, grabbing the attention of non-traditional audiences. The Boiler Room crew, having entered the Palestinian territories through Israel, experienced occupation first hand. Delays and invasive searches are the norm for Palestinians and Palestinian supporters attempting to access the territories.
This experience gives weight to arguments Palestinians make in terms of ease of movement. Music producer Al Nather said the Boiler Room crew “lived the occupation.”
They, too, witnessed BDS first hand with some local crew members refusing to receive payments through Israeli bank accounts. The team requested cash or cheque and did not wish for Israeli organisations to profit from this Palestinian cultural milestone.
The event was important because “it gave body and shape to relationship between the artists of Ramallah and Haifa, which is a big win,” Nather said.
This bypasses restrictions Israel put on Palestinians, geographically separating them wherever possible. Emphasising that the artists came from Palestinian territories as well as Israeli areas resisting the effort to break the spirit of the Palestinian people, the show of unity between Ramallah, Haifa and Jerusalem reminded international audiences that Palestinians remain united.
SAMA’, a techno DJ also on the show’s roster, said: “The Israeli narrative suggests their presence in Palestine thousands of years ago justifies their current occupation. In other words, they have constructed a false sense of legitimacy, built around a reconstructed, fantasised and ancient past. By creating cultural events in Palestine, we participate in writing contemporary Palestinian history, making new memories, proving we are alive, active and that our culture is an ongoing, contemporary process.”
If music is emerging as an act of resistance in the Palestinian territories, it is only a natural progression for a breakthrough for the Palestinian underground to behave as a sharp attack on the injustice continuously faced in the occupied territories, to Palestinians in Gaza and Palestinians in Israel.
By defying spatial and social restrictions Israelis impose on these artists, they provide hope and inspiration to their audiences. With lyrics attacking the occupiers, the occupying forces and even the Palestinian Authority, they offer a possible alternative. The growing concern on the international music scene is pushing these BDS wins forward.
To assist this music movement, it would be fundamental to see children in the Arab world, so fixated on Western media, to investigate what local talent offers and what ways those artists can be supported and show their talent and the battles they face.
Nadine Sayegh is a freelance journalist based between Dubai and Beirut, focusing on society, culture and regional politics.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.