DAM in Sheikh Jarrah: Protest re-Imagined
For several months now, left-wing Israeli and Palestinian protesters have been holding weekly protests in the town of Sheikh Jarrah, in East Jerusalem, to protest the evictions of Palestinian families from their homes in favor of Jewish settlers. Protesters, Arab and Israeli, have been met with police violence, rampant arrests, and regular visits from stone-throwing Orthodox Jews.
Nevertheless, hundreds continue to gather each Saturday in Sheikh Jarrah, among them foreign activists and Arab-Israeli lawmakers. Social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, have been instrumental in raising international awareness about what’s going on in East Jerusalem and keeping supporters informed about the rallies. YouTube and Flickr have also played important roles, allowing for real-time photo/video archiving of the rallies, including aggressive police behavior, arrests, and counter-protests from Orthodox Jews. The video below shows a typical scene from such a rally, beginning with smiling Israeli demonstrators offering a bouquet of flowers to the chief of police, and ending with police getting aggressive with demonstrators at the end of the rally and Orthodox Jews approaching.
The day before, the Palestinian rap superstars, DAM (Da Arabian MCs) gave a free performance in Sheikh Jarrah (promoted by the International Solidarity Movement) that drew a large crowd as well, though no arrests or violence (though the concert did lead to the police declaring the next day’s rally unauthorized, citing a regulation that allows only 1 public assembly per week).
Their underlying message was the same as that of the protesters, though the words they used go beyond a simple chant to the complex rhyme scheme of their 2001 anthem, “Min Irhabi/Who’s the Terrorist?”, which frames the rhetorical conundrum of the powerless Palestinian being accused of terror by those who terrorize (the Israeli government) by evicting families from their homes:
Who’s a terrorist?
I’m a terrorist?!
How am I a terrorist when you’ve taken my land?
Who’s a terrorist?
You’re the terrorist!
You’ve taken everything I own while I’m living in my homeland
You’re killing us like you’ve killed our ancestors
You want me to go to the law?
You’re the Witness, the Lawyer, and the Judge!
If you are my Judge
I’ll be sentenced to death
You want us to be the minority?
To end up the majority in the cemetery?
In your dreams!
The question this raises for me is one of the effectiveness of public assembly and how, in the Imagination Age, we can understand political protest in the form of cultural performance. By drawing a crowd of young people to a live music event, where the focus was on the artists and their words, not on confrontation with the police or with Orthodox Jewish settlers, the organizers of the DAM show in Sheikh Jarrah achieved, in my opinion, a level of political statement as strong as any other. This type of event allows the call for justice to be sounded without inciting violence, and offers an alternative means of contextualizing the conflict within the minds of young audiences, wherein the arts are seen as a viable form of protest, and an alternative to physical conflict. It is yet another powerful example of music being used as a political tool in the Middle East, with Hip Hop leading the charge.
In comparing these two events in Sheikh Jarrah, neither of which received much attention in the press nor any official response from the Israeli government, how do we then measure their relative effectiveness? I would argue that the events were most effective in tandem, expanding a traditional protest event into a multi-dimensional, cultural happening and linking cultural expression to an ongoing political struggle. With the dissemination of photos and videos via social media and crowd-sourcing platforms, both events succeeded at reaching local and international audiences in a way that they never would have been able to achieve through traditional news coverage. Furthermore, the coupling of diverse events around a single cause augments the dimensions of the overall campaign by offering multiple points of engagement for activists, supporters, and observers. In the case of Sheikh Jarrah, Hip Hop has added that dimension of cultural engagement and, in so doing, expanded the local base of support and the global impact of the movement. Whether this model of public protest will eventually eliminate the need for traditional physical confrontation is almost irrelevant. What is important here is that the legacy of young people rallying around political art is alive and well in the Imagination Age.
For those who are more interested in the pure rhythm of protest, here’s a clip from an impromptu drum circle that took place a month after the DAM concert at Sheikh Jarrah.