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Imaginaries of Exile and Emergence in Israeli Jewish and Palestinian Hip Hop
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Figure 1. 

Invincible (Ilana Weaver) talking with her mother in her 2010 People Not Places video. (Screenshot by David McDonald)

Channels of Rage

Anat Halachmi’s acclaimed 2003 documentary, Channels of Rage, begins with a furious argument between two prominent Israeli hip hop groups: DAM, a Palestinian-Israeli crew from Lyd comprised of Tamer Nafar, Suheil Nafar, and Mahmoud Jrere; and TACT, a collection of Jewish-Israeli rappers led by Subliminal (Kobi Shimoni) and Shadow (Yoav Eliasi). Meeting in a dark alley in Tel Aviv, the groups nearly come to blows over recent comments made by the two leaders, Tamer Nafar and Shimoni. Once collaborative and nurturing, the relationship between the two young rappers quickly dissolved as each began to embody contrasting political ideologies within the ongoing al-Aqsa intifada. Coming to terms with the violence on the streets of Tel Aviv and Jenin, both artists retreated from their once supportive relationship, based in a mutual love of hip hop, into the rigid, uncompromising nationalisms of Israel and Palestine.

Yet if we look beyond the belligerence and hyper-masculinized posturing, we witness an insightful commentary on contemporary Israeli society at the outset of the al-Aqsa intifada. Refracted through the lives and experiences of these young hip hop artists, Halachmi’s film reveals the internal struggles young Israelis, Jewish and non-Jewish, faced during a profound moment of collective violence, trauma, and mourning. Through his immensely popular CDs, The Light of Zion (2001) and The Light and the Shadow (2002), Subliminal energized the political right, advocating for a swift and powerful response to Palestinian terrorism through military strength. His songs articulated the widespread fears of Palestinian insurrection, existential paranoia, and the illusory desire for national security. National grief became an instrument of war, a powerful means of engendering solidarity and legitimizing an occupation in the name of self-defense. Tamer Nafar, as one of Israel’s over one million non-Jewish citizens of Palestinian ancestry, advocated for a reimagining of Israeli society in order to include all of its citizens and a reconceptualization of the discourse of terror to include all acts of violence committed against noncombatants, “whether they are wearing a uniform or not” (Nafar 2005). His voice sought to destabilize Israeli-Jewish hegemony by asserting a Palestinian perspective in the public sphere, disrupting dominant regimes of knowledge, representation, and power. For him, national grief was not an instrument of war but an opportunity for understanding, a means for coming to terms with shared fears and anxieties that exist between Israelis and Palestinians. And although these young artists were never able to fully reconcile their differences, what becomes apparent throughout this documentary are the myriad ways in which both men utilized hip hop as a fundamental means for understanding violence, politics, and the Israeli nation-state.

Situating the work of these two artists within the broader history of Israeli and Palestinian hip hop (2000–2010), I focus specifically on the performative interplay of two discursive paradigms: exile and emergence. A recent collaboration by several Israeli artists (both Jewish and Palestinian) attempts to transcend the rigid binaries of the nation-state through hip hop performance and media. In film screenings, panel discussions, and collaborative music performances, these artists articulate what might be termed a postcolonial and post-national discourse of emergence that resists exilic notions of boundaries, and explores the shared cultural and historical connections between and within Jewish and Palestinian communities in Israel. The discursive shift from exile to emergence embodied in the work of these artists presents a unique reimagining of the nation-state, and offers new opportunities for interrogating the dynamics of power, hegemony, and popular culture in the Middle East.

In forming this argument I draw upon recent scholarship in postcolonial theory as well as gender and performance studies. In particular, I am inspired by recent attempts to employ the ideas of French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (1906–1995) in the service of critical ethnography (Madison 2005:96–99). Levinas has long been an influential voice in postmodern ethical theory, and offers incredible insight into conceptualizing otherness in the ethnographic encounter. In relation to these hip hop artists, however, I would like to...



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