Influence of Israeli-Palestinian conflict on hip hop scene in Israel and Palestine

září 2014 Jiří Pejchal Studie 2014

Traditional Palestinian music is a direct derivate of Arabic music and it has its specific features, which make it unique and different from the rest of the world. On the other hand Israeli music is a combination of Jewish and non-Jewish music traditions including Arabic, Greek and Russian influences. Traditional music of both countries forms an integral part of national identity.

Israel has a strong tradition of classical music what is proved by the world-renowned Tel Aviv philharmonic orchestra; the country also has its rock and mainstream pop scenes. Eurovision song contest is very popular and respected in the country. In Palestine there is widely popular cheesy oriental sounding pop aired in most radio stations and TV. Middle Eastern popular music typically uses traditional local musical instruments. Music scene in the country is adversely affected by religious radical groups such as Hamas, who ban certain kinds of public musical production in Palestine and as a result of this situation numerous musicians have left the country.[2]

Due to the global success of certain genres, modern popular music also reached Israel and Palestine and it in many cases represents a cultural resistance against war and apartheid. Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a great influence on musical and cultural activities in the country and it represents the main inspiration for lyrics in such styles as punk rock, hip hop or metal (mostly social, religious or political problems and their open criticism). The aim of this summary is to describe local hip hop scene and the way it reflects Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

What is hip hop?

Hip hop was born in 1970s in the streets Harlem and Bronx in New York among Afro-American youth. The teenagers developed a specific vocal style, so called rap,[3]break-dance,[4] graffiti and “deejaying”.[5] The newly born rap music soon became popular at house parties and later at street parties and Afro-American rap musicians spent their time in a more creative way than being members of street gangs. Rap music also reflected their opinions and problems of living in ghettoes. Hip hop culture reached global success during the following two decades and it developed into numerous local variations. According to National Geographic hip hop is the most favourite youth culture and it appears that literally every country has developed its own rap scene.[6]Sociologists and hip hop musicians themselves agree that hip hop’s world-wide success was made possible by big record companies who started to buy independent labels producing hip hop music. A musical style which started as an underground movement has become a multimillion hip hop industry.[7]

Hip hop also reached its global success due to its typical musical features. According to Michal Nanoru, hip hop is a democratic music (similarly to punk little musical equipment and basic musical skills are needed) and it is also its rebellious nature and subversive or macho lyrics that appeal to youth and scares their parents. Hip hop is by nature rebellious and commercially populist.[8]Yet another important aspect of global popularity of hip hop is the fact that numerous suppressed people and minorities feel a parallel between their social situation and the situation of Afro-Americans.[9]

Hip hop in Israel and Palestine
In mid 1990s hip hop scene is formed in Israel and it soon became stronger and more successful. Israeli youth reflects problems such as economical crisis, increasing poverty, criminality and also Israeli-Palestine conflict. Israeli hip hop is according to Hartwig Vens “glocal”: “globalization is not something one-sided, the spreading of a homogenizing Western culture: There is a constant synthesis blending global and local elements.”[10] Anna Oravcová states that the greatest importance in hip hop plays rapping in one’s own native tongue or dialect what also serves as a sign of authenticity.[11] A renowned hip hop band DAM from a poor town Lod near Ben Gurion Aiport identifies with Palestinians and Israeli and they rap in a mixture of Hebrew, Arabic and English. It can be stated that in this case the lyrics in an international language might inform a global public about local problems.

As a father of Israeli hip hop is considered Leron Te’eni and the first hip hop band was Shabak Samech from the town of Yavne. Until these musicians appeared, rap music in Hebrew had been unknown and it focussed mostly on hedonist life. However, questions of war and peace are nowadays ubiquitous and they influence whole hip hop discourse.

The fact that an escalated situation between Arabs and Jews concerns hip hoppers personally was proved by the band Hadag Nachash who made a compilation album to commemorate their producer Benny the B, an Israeli DJ, who was killed in a suicidal attack in summer 2002. A new wave of musician with open and politically incorrect lyrics appeared due to a rising tension between Jews and Arabs. Among these bands and musicians belong BOCA, SHI 360, Sagol 59 or Subliminal. Subliminal from Tel Aviv together with his band mate Shadow promote strongly pro-Zionist views. They started to write patriotic lyrics during the second intifada in 2000 and they are until nowadays labelled as “Zionist hip hop”. The duo discovered a talented musician Tamer Nafar, an Israeli Arab, and a leader of the band DAM. Nafar has always been more sympathetic to Palestine problems what led to a split-up with nationally oriented Subliminal. In the documentary Channels of Rage,[12] which focuses on cooperation and later conflicts of these musicians can be seen fans who shout the slogan “Death to Arabs!.” Subliminal deny this fact, nevertheless, according to Hartwig Vens, this slogan can still be heard on the duo’s concerts.[13] Such situation reflects on the absence of dialogue between feuding Arabs and Jews.

Due to Tamer Nafar of DAM a specific, Arab music influenced, Palestinian hip hop was born in 1998. Unlike Israeli hip hop which originally sounded like American, politically correct production, Palestinian scene started to fight the stereotypes and it instigated a dialogue about Israeli-Palestinian conflict.[14] Palestinian hip hoppers influence Palestinians living on occupied areas of Palestinian autonomy, in Israel and also those living in diaspora. Local rappers openly speak about a paradox emerging from the concept of state, which claims to be democratic and Jewish at the same time.[15] They are also concerned with living conditions in Israel or in exile. Certain Palestinian rappers promote founding an independent Palestinian state what is no longer a question of cultural identity, but primarily that of global politics.[16] Apart from Israeli Arabs[17] DAM, Palestinian scene is also represented by Palestinian Rapperz and MWR from Gaza Strip, on the West Bank is active a female duo Arapayat, Hapinness Kids or Saz. A great number of Palestinian rappers live abroad – Hammer Brothers, Iron Sheik, Excentrik in USA or Shadia Mansour in Great Britain etc.

Cultural Activities
Due to an informer[18] living in Hebron, no such styles as rock or metal exist in Palestine and concerts of any genre take place about twice a year. Always expanding Israeli settlement which narrows the centre of Hebron makes its Arabic inhabitants socially excluded and virtually no cultural activities are available to them. Nevertheless, hip hop music also appears here and a British Palestinian Shadia Mansour, also called The First Lady of Arabic hip hop, organises hip hop workshops at schools in Hebron, Bethlehem, Ramallah and other cities of the West Bank.[19]

A completely different situation is in Palestinian refugee camps. It could be predicted that in camps which gather refugees from different ethnographic regions must exist a specific mix of traditional music. On the contrary, traditional music is not produced or performed in these camps. According to a worker in Aida Youth Centre[20] in a refugee camp Aida in Bethlehem, a musical course for children and youth is available in which children can study playing string, wind and percussion instruments based on classical music. Traditional or modern music (hip hop) cannot be heard here as these courses are supposed to serve as therapy. They focus on atmosphere and good feeling from music to make children forget their traumas caused by war and loss of home.

Hip hop in Israel and Palestine communicates mostly with teenagers, it openly speaks about Israeli-Palestinian conflict and it actively communicates a message of peace. Israel, being supported by Western powers, has a higher standard of living and there is a wide range of cultural activities, while Palestine, guarded by Israeli army and police, languishes. Israeli-Palestine conflict participates not only on the form but also on the content of modern music and also on general cultural life in the country and in the world. In the war-struck Middle East numerous artists cannot perform their music and this situation forces some of them to emigrate. In spite of this, they still believe that art has the ability to heal all wounds.[21]

[1] Within the subject „Ethnic and religious conflicts“ lectured at the Department of European Ethnology in Brno and sponsored by the Fund of Development of Masaryk University (MUNI/FR/0303/2014).

[2] BAR’EL, Zvi: Afghanistan in Palestine, 2005. Available at:, searched 1. 9. 2014.

[3] It should be noted that rap is not an invention of modern Afro-American youth and hip hop itself but its roots go back to Africa several centuries earlier. It belongs to so-called Griots – West African itinerant poets and musicians who spreads and maintains oral tradition by rhythmically tuned lyrics. See POLLARD, Lawrence: Rap returns home to Africa, 2004. Available at:, searched 1. 9. 2014.

[4] In hip hop community exclusively called b-boying.

[5] Musical accompaniment which includes vinyl records playing and various techniques associated with it. See ORAVCOVÁ, Anna: Underground českého hip hopu. In: Revolta stylem, Marta Kolářová (ed.). Praha: Sociologické nakladatelství, 2011, pp. 124.

[6] Hip hop: National geograhic worldmusic. Available at:, searched 21. 8. 2014.

[7] ORAVCOVÁ, Anna: Underground českého hip hopu. In: Revolta stylem, Marta Kolářová (ed.). Praha: Sociologické nakladatelství, 2011, pp. 127.

[8] HRABALÍK, Petr: Rap a hip hopová kultura. Available at:, searched 21. 8. 2014.

[9] EL-SABAWI, Taleed: Palestinian conflict bounces to a new beat, 2005. Available at:, searched 21. 8. 2014.

[10] VENS, Hartwig: Hip-hop speaks to the reality of Israel, World press review 51, 2004, č. 1. Available at:, searched 21. 8. 2014.

[11] ORAVCOVÁ, Anna: Underground českého hip hopu. In: Revolta stylem, Marta Kolářová (ed.). Praha: Sociologické nakladatelství, 2011, pp. 128.

[12] Channels of rage (Arotzim Shel Za’am) 2003, directed by Anat HALACHMI.

[13] VENS, Hartwig: Hip-hop speaks to the reality of Israel, World press review 51, 2004, č. 1. Available at:, searched 21. 8. 2014.

[14] EL-SABAWI, Taleed: Palestinian conflict bounces to a new beat, 2005. Available at:, searched 21. 8. 2014.

[15] SUNAINA, Maira: „We ain’t missing“: Palestinian hip hop – A transnational youth movement, 2008. Available at:, searched 21. 8. 2014.

Democracy in Israel is very limited, mainly due to the dominant position of Judaism which limits for example the legal system of the country. See JEŽOVÁ, Michaela – BURGROVÁ, Helena (eds.): Současný Blízký východ. Brno: Barrister & Principal, 2011, pp. 118–133.

[16] MASSAD, S.: Liberating Songs: Palestine Put to Music. In: Stein, R. L. – Swedenburg, T. (eds.): Palestine, Israel, and the Politics of Popular Culture. Durham, Duke University Press, 2005, pp. 175–201.

[17] Arab citizens of Israel with Israeli citizenship. Most Israeli Arabs don’t want to identify with this term and they often regard themselves as Palestinians. See ČEJKA, Marek: Izrael a Palestina. Brno: Barrister & Principal 2010, pp. 11.

[18] First name Muhammad, employee of the hospital in Hebron; 3. 6. 2014.

[19] DONNISON, Jon: British Palestinian rapper conducts a ‘musical intifada’, 2010. Available at:, searched 21. 8. 2014.

[20] First name Karim, manager of Aida Youth Center; 29. 5. 2014.

[21] JIROUŠOVÁ, Pavla: Umění v krizi Blízkého východu. Literární noviny, 11. 8. 2014. Available at:, searched 1. 9. 2014.

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