Tamer Nafar, 39, couldn’t be anything but a raptivist, a rapper who’s also a political activist. As a Palestinian, politics surrounds him, smothers and chokes him along with his compatriots. But worse, it’s dangerous, life-threateningly so, to be a Palestinian in the occupied territories.
Just last year, Israeli forces killed 295 and injured more than 29 000 Palestinians, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Palestinians killed 14 Israelis and injured 137 last year.
To avoid suffocating, Nafar raps about the blood-drenched land of Israel in which he lives, trying really hard to exhale more than just politics.
“It really annoys me that, because I’m Palestinian, people only expect me to be political, as if we don’t die from car accidents, from cancer, we don’t make love, we don’t joke,” he told West End Extra newspaper in a recent interview.
“Israel is trying to do the best to separate me from the world, but I shouldn’t do the same. I still have sex, I still get drunk … Some of us pray, we make movies.
“Oppression and apartheid is here. I’m trying to find me in it, my common things with the rest of human beings around the world.”
Palestine’s first hip-hop group
Nafar is a founding member and the leader of hip-hop crew Da Arabian MCs, better known by the acronym DAM. The other members are Maysa Daw and Mahmood Jrere. Formed in 1999, DAM are often described as Palestine’s first hip-hop group. DAM is Arabic for “eternity” and Hebrew for “blood”.
DAM are among the 1.8 million Palestinians living with an Israeli passport – by force, not choice, because they were born in Israel. Palestinians also live in two other territories, in Gaza, where 1.9 million live under Israeli blockade, and the West Bank, where 2.5 million Palestinians live under Israeli occupation. An estimated seven million refugees are spread around the world.
Nafar initially rapped in Hebrew. Like many hip-hop poets across the globe, his words reflected life on the streets. In his case, he spoke about his poverty-stricken hometown of Lod, a mixed Arab-Israeli city that used to be drug-peddling central.
But then came the Second Intifada in 2000, triggered by the provocation of the then opposition leader Ariel Sharon, who walked into al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem heavily guarded by Israeli soldiers and police officers.
More than 4 000 people lost their lives between 29 September 2000 and 15 January 2005. Of these, 3 135 were Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces in the West Bank and Gaza.
4 June 2014: Palestinian hip-hop group DAM performing at the Palestine Festival of Literature at Qasr al Qassem in Beit Wazan, near Nablus, West Bank. (Photograph by Rob Stothard/Getty Images)
DAM switched to rapping in Arabic, their verbal slingshots sharper and more overtly political. Released in 2000, Innocent Criminals was a direct hit.
When Jews protest, the cops use clubs
When Arabs protest, the cops take their souls
Then came Who is the terrorist?, which was downloaded more than a million times.
When will I stop being a terrorist?
When you hit me and I turn the other cheek
You tell me how you want me to be
Down on my knees with my hands tied
My eyes to the ground, surrounded by bodies
Houses destroyed and families driven out
You oppress, you kill. We bury
DAM’s musical arsenal has been varied. The unrepentant, poking-at-the-scab satire of Mama, I Fell in Love With a Jew made you shuffle uncomfortably in your seat. Using an ironic there’s-lurve-in-this-club RnB style accompaniment, it’s all rolling R’s, telling the story of an Arab falling in love with an Israeli in a lift.
Him going down, her going up and it’s lyrical Molotov cocktail upon Molotov cocktail:
Oops, she felt suffocated
I felt that the elevator is bigger than my house
She was cool, and made a move too
She said “without the sniper lens, you look cute too”
In the elevator, we fought the nightmares
She shared her dreams and so I shared mine
She wanna be a pilot, search the sky
My dream is not to be searched every time I fly
DAM are staunch feminists. They released their latest hit, Jasadik-Hom (Your Body of Theirs), on International Women’s Day on 8 March. Coming from a woman’s perspective, it features Maysa Daw on vocals as she confronts issues of racism and chauvinism head on:
How many eyes are on my body
How many faces does my body have
My body is feminine, my body is Arab, my Arab feminine body
It’s a multiple struggle:
If you resist you hurt their Zionism
If I resist I also hurt their masculinity
And as much as my body is aware of the oppression, it is still able to break
The politics are also personal:
It took me time to learn how to be in love with my body
My feminine Arab body
Standing in front of the mirror, I took off my glasses because they are man-made
I want to see my imperfections through my own eyes
Shut your eyes (don’t stare), these breasts are mine,
Hold your hands (don’t touch), these hips are mine
Hold your criticism, these armpit hairs are only mine
Control your facial expressions, these few extra kilos are mine
Read more by Charles Leonard:
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