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More than a decade after forming, Palestinian hip-hop pioneer, DAM, continues fight for freedom.
terrorism and siding with suicide bombers. Subliminal, Israel’s most popular rapper and a former friend of Tamer, was livid: “This fuck got up on TV and said: ‘The guy that blew himself up? I can identify with him,’” he told The Guardian. “You wanna talk about the Zionist enemy, homie? Well here I am.”
With DAM in the spotlight, the track went viral and was downloaded over a million times after its online release — quite a feat for a hardly known D.I.Y. rap group with no record deal. Rolling Stone in France then distributed the song for free in one of its issues, and Le Monde heralded DAM as “the voice of a new generation.” Soon, DAM was not just a household name among Palestinians; their music was becoming the anthem of frustrated youth throughout the Middle East, and beyond.
Ten years and two albums later, DAM is still the Palestinian soundtrack to resistance, only better known. They have made several tours of North America and Europe, where they have performed with the likes of Talib Kweli, Michael Franti, and Dead Prez, and have gained the attention of the liberal-minded university crowd. And even some of the hip-hop greats themselves — the very artists that got them hooked on hip-hop in the first place — have taken note.
“When we were in Brooklyn a few years ago, we met Chuck D,” Tamer said, cracking a rare smile. “We got the King’s blessing.”
They also got Hollywood’s blessing. DAM’s story premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2008, where it was the subject of the award-winning documentary “Slingshot Hip Hop,” which traces the birth and growth of Palestinian hip-hop, from Lod to the budding artists who have followed in DAM’s footsteps.
Despite their fame, Tamer, Suhell and Mahmoud all still live in Lod and they say their commitment to the Palestinian reality remains as strong as ever. While they write and rap about Palestinians living in the territories, much of their work also focuses on Palestinians, like them, who remained in Israel after the state’s establishment in 1948.
Today numbering more than 1.2 million — compared with the 4 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza — Arab-Israelis face a harsh reality. Structural inequality, unemployment and crime are constant threats and, according to a 2009 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation, Arab-Israelis, who today make up 20 percent of Israel, face a poverty rate of about 50 percent. DAM’s hometown of Lod remains the country’s drug and murder capital, which, last year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared to the “Wild West” of Israel.
The Arab-Israeli problem doesn’t end there. Palestinians living in Israel face discrimination not only at home, but also by the greater Arab community, who see them as traitors for living in the Jewish state.
“Israelis don’t like us because we’re Arabs, and the other Arabs don’t like us because we have Israeli passports, because we are citizens,” Mahmoud said.
But if he is a citizen of Israel, he only sees himself as a second-class citizen. “Having an Israeli passport means nothing,” he said. “When I go to the airport, they still think I am a terrorist. It doesn’t matter what you call us, we live in a racist country.”
And racism against Arabs in Israel appears to be on the rise.
A fanatical group known as the “price-taggers” torched and vandalized a mosque in the northern Arab Israeli village of Tuba Zangaria in early October. And a few days later, on Yom Kippur, Christian and Muslim tombstones were defaced on in a cemetery in Jaffa, the ancient port city that today comprises the greater metropolitan area of Tel Aviv and has a sizeable Arab population.
The blows came one month after the Knesset approved the “Nakba Bill,” which bans publicly-funded organizations from commemorating the Nakba (translated literally as “the catastrophe”), a term used by Palestinians to mark the day when more than 700,000 Arabs were forcibly removed to create the state of Israel in 1948. Heavily criticized by the Israeli left and civil rights groups, the law is considered a reflection of the government’s growing fear of Palestinian history being made public and, according to Ha’aretz, Israel’s leading newspaper, one that “encourages the instigators of racism” and is “designed to shut people up.”
DAM, however, has refused to shut up. Tamer said: “Real rap criticizes anyone who denies freedom.”