Lyrical resistance: Rappers address Palestinian struggle from behind the mic

Palestinian rapper Asifeh’s music video. (YouTube)
Updated 02 November 2017
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Lyrical resistance: Rappers address Palestinian struggle from behind the mic

LONDON: Palestinian rapper Asifeh’s music video, filmed in a city known to Arabs as Al-Khalil and to Israelis as Hebron, opens with a scene of shuttered shops and cinder block buildings.
“Imagine a whole nation on your land, fully armed and wanting you to leave… and you’re just sitting on the couch, your only hope is your bank account,” he said, staring unblinking into the camera.
Comments on the music video, which has more than 20,000 views, reveal the global reach of Palestinian hip hop. “Peace from Egypt,” reads a note from one fan. “Respect from Turkey,” said another.
Spitting bars of lyrics into microphones across the West Bank, Gaza and beyond, rappers are using their art to highlight the effects of the Israeli occupation and convey the Palestinian struggle to the world.
“It’s like a soundtrack to the struggle, to revolution,” said Asifeh, who prefers to use his rap name. “It’s also a way for people to assert their freedom by saying what’s on their mind.”
His first song, written while he was a housebound youth during the second intifada (uprising), was named after the Israeli flares that lit up the night sky. With tanks rolling through the streets, Asifeh spent most of his time indoors and began writing rap.
For a rapper whose lyrics address colonization, migration and inequality, it is only natural that he should be reflecting these days upon the Balfour Declaration, the letter written 100 years ago by Britain’s then- foreign secretary, which paved the way for the creation of Israel.
“There is a sense of urgency. It’s been 100 years already and you know, look at what is still happening as a result of that,” Asifeh, who is based between Ramallah and Vienna, told Arab News.
“The fact that you have Prime Minister Theresa May and the British government wanting to celebrate, saying they’re proud of this — it’s very shameful, and it also shows that on that level nothing has changed.”
Spoken-word artist and rapper Mohammad Jamil, based in Ramallah, said the suffering he sees every day, from arrests to killings, serves as an inspiration for his work.
“It makes us flow from pen to paper to describe the situation and to express our feelings and create a dialogue with our audience around the world to be aware of our cause and our rights,” he said.
But Rafiq Hamawi, a beat-maker, activist and rapper based in Nablus, said that occupation is just one of a host of social issues local rappers should bring to the fore.
“I see rap as more effective in fighting internal oppression,” he said. “Using rap in Palestine would be more successful in fighting the tyranny from the Palestinian officials or the corruption that we see,” he said.
Away from the heat of the conflict, Arab rappers in the diaspora negotiate how to address the Palestinian struggle without overpowering local voices or capitalizing upon their suffering.
“I would say the dream of justice for (the) Palestinian people and land is inspiration for my work, (but) their struggle is not to be appropriated,” said Yassin Al-Salman, a Montreal-based rapper better known by his stage name, Narcy.
Al-Salman, whose political commentary extends beyond the microphone to op-ed pages and university lecterns, said the Palestinian struggle has helped unite Arabs.
“Palestine is an important part of Arab identity,” he told Arab News. “I see the nation as our challenge to stand together, to put aside our differences and difficulties in unifying, for humankind.”


Jordan’s PM appeals for more aid as most Syrian refugees set to stay

Updated 28 min 30 sec ago
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Jordan’s PM appeals for more aid as most Syrian refugees set to stay

  • Jordan PM says most refugees not returning yet
  • Amman says funding crucial to keep economy afloat

AMMAN: Jordan’s Prime Minister Omar Al-Razzaz appealed on Wednesday to major donors to continue multi-billion dollar funding for Syrian refugees in the kingdom, saying most of those who had fled the eight-year conflict had no intention of returning any time soon.
Razzaz told representatives of major Western donors, UN agencies and NGOs that relatively few refugees had gone back since Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s army last summer regained control of southern Syria, where most had fled from.
“The number of refugees that so far returned voluntarily is low and most have no intention of going back any time soon,” Razzaz told a meeting to launch a UN-funded government plan that earmarks $2.4 billion in funding needs for 2019.
Officials say only around 10,000 refugees out of a total estimated at 1.3 million had left since the two countries opened the vital Nassib-Jaber border crossing last October.
Razzaz echoed the UN view that unstable conditions inside Syria, where large-scale destruction, fear of retribution and military conscription has made many reluctant to return.
“We are now entering a new phase of the Syrian crisis, however the impact is still ongoing. The conditions for their return are not present,” Razzaz added.
The prime minister warned against donor fatigue in a protracted crisis where the needs of refugees and vulnerable Jordanians were largely unchanged.
Maintaining funding that covers education, health and crucial services for tens of thousands of Syrian refugees and local communities was crucial to ease rising pressures on the debt-burdened economy, he added.
“Aid helped Jordan in staying resilient in a difficult regional setting,” Razzaz said, adding the refugee burden had strained meagre resources such as water and electricity, with a donor shortfall covered from state finances.
Jordan is struggling to rein in record public debt of $40 billion, equivalent to 95 percent of gross domestic product, under a tough International Monetary Fund (IMF) austerity plan.
Major donors say more than $6 billion had been extended to Jordan since 2015, which economists credit for rejuvenating once sleepy northern border towns, while refugee entrepreneurship brought a pool of cheap labor and new skills, triggering a property boom and higher productivity.
The kingdom received around $1.6 billion last year alone.
“The level of funding to Jordan that still remains is exceptional in global comparison,” said UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Anders Pedersen, adding needs had evolved from the humanitarian aid required early in the conflict to development projects that benefit the economy.