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    “Innocent Criminals”: Palestinian Rappers Take on Occupation, Racism and Domestic Violence.

    There is no doubt that Palestinian hip hop was truly born alongside DAM. Bothers Tamar and Suhell Nafar and Mahmoud Jreri formed the group (meaning Da Arab MCs) back in 1999 and initially rapped in Hebrew at hip hop clubs in Tel Aviv. “48 Palestinians” living in what became Israel in 1948, the group recorded non-political raps until the Second Intifada (Uprising) against Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which included demonstrations by Palestinian citizens of Israel, inspired DAM to address the Palestinian condition under Israeli rule within Israel itself and the adjacent Occupied Territories.

    "Innocent Criminals"

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    In late 2000, DAM released their first political song. Although the group would soon transition into Arabic rap, they released “Innocent Criminals” in Hebrew as a protest song against the Israeli establishment that discriminates and mistreats Palestinians, including fellow citizens: “Before you judge me. Before you feel me. Before you punish me. Walk in my shoes…”

    “Meen Irhabi”

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    DAM’s first Arabic hit soon followed. After a gathering of Israeli protesters shouted “terrorists” near a mosque in the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Jaffa in response to a Palestinian suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, DAM released “Meen Irhabi” (Who is the terrorist?):

    Who's a terrorist?

    I'm a terrorist?!

    How am I a terrorist when you've taken my land?

    “Meen Irhabi” brought international attention as the French edition of Rolling Stone profiled the group and released the single as part of an accompanying compilation.

    "Born Here"

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    Jackie Salloum’s documentary “Slingshot Hip Hop” visits DAM’s hometown of Lod (al-Ludd in Arabic), a mixed Arab-Jewish town. And while both are Israeli citizens, the Arab neighborhoods are blighted by neglect. In 2010, The Economist reported, the town’s authorities “finished building a wall three metres high to separate Lod's Jewish districts from its Arab ones” and as such “Arab suburbs are cordoned off to prevent their spread” while “many municipal services, such as street lighting and rubbish collection, stop at the boundaries of Arab suburbs. Sixteen kilometres (ten miles) from Tel Aviv, Israel's richest city, sewage flows through some of Lod's Arab streets.” In 2004, DAM took lyrics from a popular Israeli song (“I was born here, my children were born here and this is where we built our houses with our hands”) and mixed them to: “I was born here, my grandparents were born here and this is where you destroyed our houses with your hands” for the single “Born Here” about the destitution founded on discrimination that characterizes Arab neighborhoods in Israel. The Born Here Campaign brought Israeli celebrities to Lod and media reports on the train tracks that mark the entrance to the Arab neighborhoods, which have been responsible for the death of several Arabs. In response to the campaign, the local authorities built a pedestrian bridge, leading DAM to remark, “When we say Hip Hop is a bridge, we mean it metaphorically and Literary”. Rapped in Hebrew for Israeli attention, the chorus was sung in Arabic by Abir al Zinati.

    "Change Tomorrow"

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    2006 brought DAM’s first full album: “Ihdaa” (Dedication). Released around the Arab world, Europe and the US, it led to an international tour and several hits. Akin to their past releases, the tracks echoed the Palestinian experience. Involved in community activism and conscious of their position as role models for many Palestinian children with limited opportunities, the track “Change Tomorrow” speaks to the rising generation of Palestinians to “keep asking for a life full of equality”. In (partial) English subtitles above.

    "If I could go back in time"

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    “Dabke on the Moon”, the group’s second full album, was released in 2012 and “If I could go back in time” the title track (Dabka is a Laventine dance, almost like an Arab ‘Riverdance’). Reflecting DAM’s vocal activism on women’s rights, which includes the track “al Hurriyah Unt’a” (Freedom for my sisters) off the debut album, the song and video chronical the life of a young Palestinian woman who refuses an arranged marriage, attempts to run away and ends up being killed in a so-called “honor killing”; it takes on patriarchal violence and imagines a different, better world for the victimized woman. The song’s message led NYU and Columbia anthropologists Maya Mikdashi and Lila Abu Lughod to call themselves “(disappointed) fans” and write that “[DAM} succumb to an international anti-politics machine that blames only tradition” while failing to portray the structural violence and discrimination of Israeli rule. As such, the video de-politicizes domestic violence, presents Arabs as the “other”, and “reinforces, and perhaps justifies in the eyes of many, the conviction that it is Palestinians’ backwardness and lack of civilization that should be blamed for violence against women in the community.” To which DAM responded: “This issue is not confined to Israeli occupation. We see Arab women being killed over the so-called "honor of the family" in Jordan, Morocco, Egypt, and many other places. There are no Israeli tanks over there.” Furthermore, their tracks are in Arabic for Arab audiences, so certainly they are not trying to indulge Western tropes about Palestinians and reject the idea that they ignore the work of feminist activists in Palestine as the video features Amal Murkus, a Palestinian women’s rights activist. For DAM, the track represents the spirit of the Arab Uprisings as “Arabs are standing up and demanding a change from within” and “fighting the Occupation and fighting sexism and patriarchy is, for DAM, one fight.”

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    For Tamer, Suhell, and Mahmood, whose lyrics have challenged military occupation, colonialism, racism, poverty, indifference, and gender violence, DAM represents more than just another rap group: "We are part of a new artistic movement in Palestine that is secure enough to take on occupation and domestic violence, racism and sexism. We will not shy away from engaging our society's taboos. We believe we can, and we must, tackle these issues with openness, bravery, and honesty."

    To listen to more of DAM, visit their website.

    To learn more about Palestinian history and culture, and current affairs, visit the Institute for Palestine Studies.

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