The beats of resistance

April 23, 2009

Ann Coleman reviews Slingshot Hip Hop, a documentary about Arab rap artists inside Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.

THERE ARE only a handful of movies that resonate with my political consciousness. More times than not, they are more historical, showing a glimpse of the history that has been stripped away or omitted from textbooks.

Through the late 1980s and 1990s, movies like Matewan and Land and Freedom inspired me to put my own political work into a historical context and move forward with an inspirational mantra for the ups and downs of class struggle: someday, we will rebuild that kind of fightback.

What I've noticed recently is that I'm running into more and more movies that resonate with the political questions of the day, or that take historical material and show a way forward for today's struggles. In November, it was Milk, which showed the historical struggle of Harvey Milk and the gay rights struggle of the early 1970s. Its release was timed to show the failure of the campaign to stop anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 in California and a way forward for overturning the hate legislation and winning gay rights once and for all.

Gaza's PR (Palestinian Rapperz)
Gaza's PR (Palestinian Rapperz)

On April 5, I went to a screening of Slingshot Hip Hop in Cambridge, Mass. This documentary is not just your average hip-hop cultural documentary. First-time Palestinian-American filmmaker Jackie Reem Salloum spent four-and-a-half years gathering over 700 hours of footage without funding or film crews.

Covering Arab rap artists inside Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, Salloum often had to convince friends to get video cameras to the artists since Israeli officials broke or confiscated equipment upon her entry or departure from the country. Most of the footage was shot by the artists themselves.

The documentary follows "48-ers" (Arabs inside Israel) DAM, with MCs Suhell Nafar, Tamer Nafar and Mahmoud Jreri; Palestinian Rapperz (PR) from Gaza with Mohammad Al Farra and Mahmoud Fayad; and West Bank artist Mahmoud Shalabi. Undeniably, DAM broke new ground in the late 1990s by developing rap in Hebrew and Arabic inspired by African American hip hop.

The documentary addresses honestly DAM's early apolitical inspiration and aims--hip hop was cool and allowed them to escape the realities of life under Israeli occupation. In 2000, the second intifada and Israel's response changed everything. Since then, DAM have spearheaded and inspired other artists to create some of the best political hip hop in the world.

The artists included in the documentary, such as female MCs Arapeyat and Sabreena Da Witch (Abeer), cover in their music the daily struggles of the Palestinian people and the violence caused by Israeli occupation. The screening of Slingshot Hip Hop in Cambridge included a question-and-answer session with filmmaker Salloum and DAM. When asked what would bring peace to the Middle East, DAM said it best, "Our first priority must be to stop the occupation. You can end slavery, but it does not mean you have granted freedom."

The film follows the artists, their lives, and their fight to connect the struggles of Arabs inside Israel to the struggles in the West Bank and Gaza. It shows the lengths to which Israeli officials go not only to keep the people and land separated and barricaded, but also to prevent artists from performing together on the same stage.

This wasn't the first time Slingshot Hip Hop was screened in the Boston area; it opened the Palestinian Film Festival in the fall of 2008 after its premiere as a selected documentary in the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. What has changed since then is Israel's most recent brutal attack on Gaza. The Cambridge screening and sold-out concert by DAM, which were organized as a fundraiser for the Palestinian Film Festival, were packed with both seasoned Palestine solidarity activists and newly radicalizing youth.

In terms of Palestinian resistance, DAM suggests there needs to be an alternative to Hamas. At the same time, DAM also told the audience, "The thing about oppressed people is you cannot tell them how to resist. They have the right to resist. We must all support the resistance." The audience applauded and raised their fists in the air.

It was at that moment that I realized how our own solidarity work for ending the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israeli apartheid is integral to that resistance.

Slingshot Hip Hop is now available on DVD and the soundtrack has just been released. Get copies of both.

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