Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Handful of Dirt, and Maybe a Documentary Too

Damascus is full of cultural events. Recently I attended a film festival which was showing films from all over the world, for free. “Slingshot Hip-Hop” was the film that caught my attention in the program. A film made by a Palestinian-American about hip-hop in Palestine, that sounds right up my alley. My Palestinian friend, Khalid (see previous post/email A Handful of Dirt, That's All I Ask), attended the film with me.

There were truly great moments in the film. Scenes of the lyricists flowing their politically charged lyrics to scores of Palestinian youth. Lines such as, “Miin il haalbii? Ana haalbii? La, inte halbii (Who is a terrorist? I am a terrorist? No, you are a terrorist.” These angry lyrics came out of the 2nd intifada when young Palestinian men were targeted for being young men. The lyrics respond by saying, 'don't call me a terrorist, when you are the one detaining me, threatening me, torturing me, bombing me, and demolishing my home; you are the terrorist.'

Other scenes depict a Palestinian living in '48 (Israel), who is boarding an Israeli bus full of soldiers. The Palestinian rapper talks about what's it's like to get on an Israeli bus as an Arab. He recalls being young and speaking Hebrew with his Arab friends when they were in public places because it made them stand out less. But after the 2nd intifada, he decided to stop being ashamed of who he was. Now he boards a bus and speaks Arabic, even though it causes soldiers to raise their eyebrows, especially if he is carrying a backpack.

See the film if you can, it's brilliant. It shows an alternative form of resistance: rap. These musicians write music that speaks to Palestinian youth, and they stay involved in young people's lives, so that they don't get into drugs, but instead, they start to actively resist the occupation, rather than being silent.

At the beginning of the film, the filmmaker asked how many Palestinians were in the house. My friend Khalid raised his hand with force, and with a big smile. He looked at me and exclaimed, “Yeah, I am Palestinian.”

After the film, Khalid and I talked quite a bit about the film. He quite liked the film, but it was hard for him to watch. It's hard to see a place that he desperately hopes to visit, but knows he may never see it, except on the silver screen. Khalid already had heard much of the music in the film, and knew most of the words. Of course we talked some about the Palestine issue at large, and America's role in perpetuating the injustice.

There was a pause in our discussion, Khalid turned to me with tears in his eyes, “When she asked if there were any Palestinians in the theatre...I was so proud to raise my hand.” I had nothing to say, except for the tears that started running down my face too.

- - - - - - -

Later that evening, Khalid invited me to stay with him at his home in the refugee camp, I accepted. When I stepped foot into his room, I was amazed. His room was awesome! The decorations were amazing. Pictures, flags, maps of Palestine adorned the walls. The largest map had the village of his mother and father circled with a Sharpie pen. The Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish (often called the voice of Palestinian people), was all over the walls: pictures of his face and excerpts from his poems. Yasser Arafat, Che Guevera, Marcel Khalife (musician who often writes music to Darwish's poems), were some of the faces who covered the walls. Scribbles of “Free Palestine” in English and Arabic were all over.

It struck me what a large part of Khalid's identity comes from his Palestinian roots. He desperately longs to see this land, and to meet these people. I pray to a justice-loving God, that Khalid may see his dreams come true, that the blanket of injustice that covers the Palestinian people will be lifted. Amen.