Phil Monsour transcends Palestine’s tragedy on rousing new rock album

7 May 2012

When a profound human experience is expressed through art, the result is often extraordinary. When this experience is inspired by a human catastrophe that has altered the lives of millions over generations, the art becomes a vehicle for resistance. In his latest album, Ghosts of Deir Yassin, Australian rock musician and activist Phil Monsour evokes revolutionary courage.

Monsour’s album was written during a trip to Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon. The title track — dealing with Deir Yassin, a Palestinian village destroyed during the Nakba (the wave of ethnic cleansing leading to the foundation of the state of Israel) showcases his talent for transforming the painful into the inspirational. The chorus “You see that we are rising / Our day is surely coming / No longer in the shadows of the ghosts of Deir Yassin” captures the spirit of Palestinian resistance today.

Indeed, Deir Yassin and other ethnically cleansed villages in Palestine are no longer confined to some faraway place in our collective memory only to be taken out once a year during the Nakba commemoration and then put away out of mind and sight.

Today’s resistance movement has put the rights of refugees back at the center of our struggle. Monsour knows that well. He is, after all, a founding member of Artists Against Apartheid-Australia and a trade union activist and organizer in the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

Vow to return

The video for Ghosts of Deir Yassin was filmed in January 2012, in a number of refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon and features the Palestinian spoken word artist Rafeef Ziadah reciting Fadwa Tuqan’s poetry: “I hope one day to return to my beloved homeland, to the flowers and roses, I no longer fear their power, I will return.”

The song Ghosts of Deir Yassin is an affirmation of this vow to return. The video features Palestinians of all ages in the refugee camps carrying the names of their villages of origin some of which were wiped out by Israel in 1948.

But other songs on the album are equally potent. The music alternates from anthem rock style to folk ballads and the themes range from the romantic “I left my heart in Palestine” about love at a checkpoint, to the tragic “Dark Tunnels” which was written when Monsour was denied entry into Gaza because of his Arab origin while the rest of his group was allowed to pass.

Taking charge of the future

It has to be said that while many of the songs touch on the horrific reality Palestinians face on a daily basis, they certainly don’t wallow in the hopelessness and tragedy of it. In fact, the songs manage to transcend the tragic. Rather than feeling overwhelmed by the weight of suffering, listeners find themselves celebrating with Monsour the essence of the unbreakable human spirit rising from under the shackles of occupation, and marching through the narrow alleyways of the refugee camps.

It is important to note that the album’s appeal is not exclusive to the Palestinian story. In fact, many of the songs capture a broader human experience that can resonate with anyone who enjoys passionate dynamic contemporary music and who is interested in the universal battle for social justice and human rights.

Ghosts of Deir Yassin is not about lingering in the past but about taking charge of the future. It is not only about knowing where we come from but also knowing where we belong. It may be difficult not to be swept up in the rhythm of the songs, but it is impossible not to be inspired by the lyrics. Ghosts of Deir Yassin empowers.

The album Ghosts of Deir Yassin is available at CDbaby and other outlets. One-fifth of the money raised by CD sales will be donated to projects in the Middle East involving Union Aid Abroad, a humanitarian aid agency run by the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

Samah Sabawi is a Palestinian writer, playwright and human rights activist.