“The moment I stepped into the camps here in Lebanon, I thought I was in Palestine,” Arab-American filmmaker Jackie Salloum said after a 6 August nighttime screening in the Shatila refugee camp of her documentary, Slingshot Hip Hop.
“I hope people living in Beirut come to see the film,” Salloum said anxiously before a previous screening on 5 August in the Burj al-Barajne refugee camp.
Luckily for Salloum, the 2008 Sundance Film Festival entry about the Palestinian hip-hop movement in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip was shown last week to large audiences in Baddawi, Burj al-Barajne and Shatila — three of Lebanon’s 12 official Palestinian refugee camps.
More importantly, Palestinian youth from each of the camps came out in force to see what Salloum called, “a window into Palestine — maybe feel a little more connected to the Palestinian hip-hop scene there.”
It’s gratifying for the filmmaker who spent five years on Slingshot Hip Hop, raising money at times by working at her parents’ ice cream shop in Farmington Hills, Michigan.
Her production company, Fresh Booza Productions, is a nod to this period — booza being the Arabic word for ice cream.
Loss of history
“This film is about a loss of identity as much as anything else,” Salloum told MENASSAT. “Hip-hop is a way of telling their stories as they reclaim that history.”
The film’s primary protagonists are the hip-hoppers Tamer, Mahmoud and Suhell of DAM — touted in the film as the first Palestinian hip-hop group. DAM’s members hail from Lod or al-Lyd in Israel; they’re called “48ers” because they are Palestinians who remained in Israel after the formation of the state in 1948.
As the film depicts, whole generations of Palestinian youth growing up inside Israel’s borders are not being taught their history, including the fact that Israel’s founders expelled some 700,000 Palestinians from historic Palestine in 1948 in an event Palestinians call al-Nakba, or the “great catastrophe.”
“If their parents aren’t teaching them, they’re simply brought up as Israeli-Arabs and not Palestinians,” Salloum explained.
In one exchange during the film, DAM’s Tamer Nafar is leading a talk at an elementary school class in his hometown of Lod.
“Let’s talk about what it means to be Palestinians living in the state of Israel,” he says.
One child asks, “I’m Palestinian?”
“Why? What do you think you are?” Nafar asks in return.
“I’m an Arab,” the youngster says.
“You’re grandfather was from Palestine so you’re Palestinian.”
Sama Abdelhaddi, an 18-year-old female MC (rapper) and DJ from Ramallah in the West Bank attended the Slingshot Hip Hop screening in Burj al-Barajne on 5 August.
Abdelhaddi, who has a small cameo appearance in the film, said that Palestinian rap groups like DAM are acting as an inspiration to the youth.
“You saw in the film how that one kid called himself an Arab and not a Palestinian. This is what my [Palestinian] friends are taught in Israeli schools,” she said.
“DAM has affected the youth in their hometown especially because they are active in the schools, and it doesn’t hurt that their music has gotten really popular. Kids are listening and wanting to read more books by Palestinian writers and know more about their cousins in the West Bank and Gaza. They want to be like DAM.”
DAM’s socially conscious lyrics are a nod to their American rap predecessors. Rappers like 2Pac Shakur and the revolutionary New York-based rap group Public Enemy figure prominently as models for DAM.
“We saw our hood [neighborhood],” Tamer Nafar says early on in Slingshot when describing what he felt after seeing 2 Pac’s video, Holla If Ya Hear Me.
And like the social issues explored by 2Pac in his raps, Slingshot Hip Hop plunges head first into the very real social problems affecting Palestinians within Israel: drug abuse and graft being two of the biggest.
It’s a glimpse inside Palestinian-Israeli culture not often discussed in the media.
Who’s a terrorist?
Yaseen is a young rapper from a Lebanese-based Palestinian hip-hop crew I-voice, or Invincible Voice, out of the Burj al-Barajne refugee camp. His rap influences are more immediate than 2Pac or Public Enemy, citing other Palestinian rappers like Ramallah Underground and Taste of Pain as his main inspirations.
But DAM’s most famous song, “Min Erhabe?” (Who’s a Terrorist?), had wide-ranging affects on the entire Arab rap diaspora when it was released in 2003, including on Yaseen and his rap partner, TNT.
At the Burj al-Barajne screening of Slinghsot, Yaseen told MENASSAT, “The film inspires me to want to break down the social barriers that exist for Palestinians living in the refugee camps here.”
Like the 1948 Palestinians in Israel, Yaseen said that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have no idea what Palestinians in the diaspora are going through.
“Our music is as much for Palestinians there as it is for the Lebanese here.”
Slingshot Hip Hop also documents the rise of the Gaza Strip-based group, the Palestinian Rapperz, or PR; the West Bank-based group Arapeyat, made up of two female MC’s, Safa and Nahwa; and two other Lod residents, Abeer Zinati, “the first lady of Palestinian rhythm and blues,” and Mahmoud Shalabi, formerly of the Palestinian hip-hop crew MWR.
Of course, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the dire conditions faced by Gazans since the Israeli pullout in 2005 are unmistakable backdrops to much of the action in Slingshot Hip Hop.
“There is a very real geographic separation within the Palestinian hip-hop movement,” Salloum said.
“These groups are all restricted physically by the Israeli government, and the film shows how they use their music to channel their frustrations and connect with their peers.”
As Salloum explained, the Internet has become the primary medium for that exchange.
“They can’t travel to see each other, so they trade beats and vocal tracks over the Internet. Right now, all the groups are reaching out to other Arab rappers throughout the world: the US-based crews The Philistines and The NOMADS, the Iraqi hip-hop crew from Canada, Euphrates; and they are also working on collaborations with several African and Latin-America-based hip-hop crews.”
Speaking from his home studio in the Burj al-Barajne camp, Yaseen from I-voice told MENASSAT, “We’re working with DAM and another group from the West Bank, Ramallah Underground. My partner TNT and I are laying down our vocals and we should have something finished soon.”
“One day I hope we can perform together, but it will probably be in Europe before it’s either here or in Palestine.”
Jackson Allers has traveled extensively and worked in all mass media contexts — radio, print, on-line, and television.Â He is the English-language editor/writer forÂ the Arab press freedom website, www.menassat.com, where this artci originally appeared.Â Allers has been covering hip-hop for over 15 years and is currently writing a book about the rise of hip-hop in the Arab world.