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Freestyling freedom in Palestine

Earlier this month, Palestinians organized and staged Hip-Hop Kom, a rap competition broadcast in the West Bank and Gaza showcasing the talent of local rappers. As Jordan Flaherty, writing for The Electronic Intifada, notes, “Through the use of video conferencing and projection, each city could see and hear the performances happening in the other. Five groups from Gaza participated, coming in first, third, and fourth place.” Although Gazans took the prize, the real victory goes to all the Palestinians who orchestrated and participated in the event which embodied the principles of pragmatic nonviolence. It was a subversive action, daring to unite and voice the angst of oppression over melodious beats and rhythms. It was a bold demonstration of the power of Palestinian youth and their ability to peacefully and creatively mobilize themselves in the face of violence.

I see Palestinians turning toward an art form that was birthed by oppressed black people in the US and I can’t help but notice the parallels between the groups. Hip-hop gives expression to the plight of marginalization and it vocally validates the experience of the oppressed. In the US, we are witnessing the infiltration of hip hop by forces of materialism and greed. In Palestine, the essence of hip-hop still remains close to the root of active struggle and resistance against on oppressive order. Palestinian hip-hop reminds us that the poverty of the South Bronx shares a common cause with the poverty of Jenin. It calls us back to the realization that we are all a people in struggle against the war machine. While we let hip-hop die on its native soil, a drumbeat from Palestine calls us toward a resurrection fueled by the knowledge that our country deprives and exploits its poor at home in order to make war on others abroad.

Palestinians are painfully aware that life in Palestine depends on perception and awareness in the US. Getting back to the roots of hip-hop will situate us at the interface of the international and the domestic and will put us in solidarity with local and global networks of people struggling for change and freedom from tyranny. Hip hoppers in the US must therefore take hip-hop as seriously as the Palestinians do and utilize it as a tool to organize and elevate the consciousness of the nation. We must bring the human face of Palestine to our fellow Americans but in order to do so we have to get closer to them ourselves. Can we show them that we care? Or are we too committed to rapping about money and illusory prosperity? Are we exporting our solidarity or a vain, materialistic outlook on life? Are we representatives of the status quo of imperialism and colonialism or do we chant the fires of resistance? Only we can decide.