Rapping amid Palestine’s ruins

Kareem, the protagonist of a new feature film about a Palestinian hip-hop artist, embodies “the sequel to what happened in the Nakba,” said Tamer Nafar, who co-wrote and stars in Junction 48.

The character Kareem, Nafar told The Electronic Intifada, was inspired by his own life. Nafar is an emcee in the hip-hop trio DAM.

Like Nafar, Kareem is a rising star living in Lydd, a city near Tel Aviv in present-day Israel.

Lydd was the site of one of the worst episodes in the Nakba, the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine. In July of that year, some 50,000 Palestinians were driven out of the town by Zionist militias and expelled to the West Bank.

Nearly 70 years later, residents continue to resist discriminatory Israeli policies targeting Palestinians and their homes in Lydd.

The ongoing oppression and displacement of Palestinians inside Israel – what Palestinians call ‘48 – inspires the storyline of Junction 48.

“Universal message”

The film takes up many of the issues that Nafar and DAM have been rapping about for years: poverty, crime, police brutality, racism, sexism and expanding settler-colonialism against Palestinians inside Israel.

At the beginning of the film, Kareem is reluctant to define his songs as political and is happy just to be performing on stage. But as a series of events both tied to him personally and to his circle of friends brings pain and loss, Kareem takes risks for his art and his community and the broader Palestinian liberation struggle.

The inspiration for the story “was the neighborhood itself,” Nafar told The Electronic Intifada. “[But] we felt something was missing.”

Nafar and director Udi Aloni understood that to properly depict life in Lydd, and the characters’ conflicts, the continuing trauma of the Nakba would have to be prominently featured.

“In order for us to deliver a true universal message, we have to be extremely particular in the details of what Lydd is,” Aloni told The Electronic Intifada. “What it [means] to be a Palestinian within Israel, who we call 48ers, what is this place that you live [in], the apartheid that is not so obvious to the people outside of Israel.”

“Living with the threat”

In one scene, the house belonging to a friend of Kareem is demolished by Israeli police while family and neighbors watch helplessly. The Israeli municipality intends to build a “museum of coexistence” on the property.

Aloni said that set designers built the house from scratch. The set was so realistic, he added, that in an act of terrible irony, city authorities gave the filmmakers a notice to destroy the house.

During the filming of the demolition scene, actors and crew members started to cry because the destruction was so familiar.

“Many [of the residents have] tried to stop many house demolitions in Lydd,” Aloni explained. “Many are living with this threat that their house could be destroyed every day.”

In the film, after the house is crushed, a protest concert for the neighborhood is held on top of the rubble.

Aloni said that this is part of the Palestinian “spirit of resistance.”

He remarked that the Palestinian Bedouin village of al-Araqib in the southern Naqab desert, for example, has been destroyed and rebuilt by its residents more than 100 times since 2012.

“We can sing on the ruins, and then we rebuild,” he said.

Junction 48 has won awards at film festivals in New York and Berlin. The film is currently touring the US.

It is also available for streaming and download on iTunes.

The film was recently featured as “critics’ pick” by the The New York Times.

To hear the full interviews with Tamer Nafar and Udi Aloni, listen to the podcast via the media player above.

Nora Barrows-Friedman is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada.