On the morning of May 13, a call went outacross the ether from the Palestinian community in Lydd asking for “international protection for the Indigenous Palestinians from Israeli state-sanctioned pogroms.” Spearheaded by members of the pioneering Palestinian hip-hop group DAM, the call followed days of rupture and violence and several nights of terror, as Palestinians with Israeli citizenship “faced multiple pogroms and lynching attempts perpetrated by Jewish Israeli mobs.”
While the events of those nights rocked towns from Acre to Ramle, Haifa to Jerusalem, they were particularly convulsive in Lydd (or Lod, in Hebrew), a small working-class city in the center of Palestine-Israel. Lydd had often been held up as a model of “coexistence” within Israel, but a far more oppressive reality has simmered beneath the surface, particularly in recent years as right-wing Jewish nationalists moved in to “Judaize” the city. During the week of May 10, that reality burst its bounds as mobs of Jewish extremists rampaged through the town, abetted by militarized police forces, and Palestinians pushed back. One Palestinian man died, 33-year-old Musa Hassuna, and one Jewish man, 56-year-old Yigal Yehoshua.
Late last week, Mahmood Jrere and Tamer Nafar, two of the founding members of DAM, sat down with their close friend, filmmaker and writerUdi Aloni, to talk about the petition they put forward and the reality of life in Lydd. The interview has been edited for length, clarity, and flow
Udi Aloni: So first, can you tell us, what is DAM?
Mahmood Jrere: DAM was founded in early 2000, late 1999. All of the members of DAM are Palestinians living inside of Israel, which makes us carry the Israeli idea, and we have created many songs and albums. One of the [songs] was “Who Is a Terrorist?,” in the beginning of the Second Intifada. We released three official albums. We are from Lydd, the city in the center of Israel. It’s a mixed city that was occupied in 1948 by Zionist gangs—and that’s being short about it.
Aloni: Why did you publish a petition asking the international community to interfere to protect the Palestinian citizens of Israel?
Jrere: Well, as Palestinians, even before what happened and what’s happening now, we know that we are unprotected. We know because we see that we are not equal in front of the system. We are not equal in anything: not in law, not even in housing, in work, in job opportunities. We are not equal. And that’s something that’s been part of daily life since 1948. But what made me actually [publish the petition] is because we suffer from a collective trauma that happened to us in 1948. We all heard the stories of our grandmothers and our grandfathers on how they were massacred, how they were transferred, how they were kicked out from their homes, their homes were stolen. It’s a very catastrophic, tragic story that my grandmother told me every year.
[So] suddenly seeing Israeli settlers, the extremist right wing with extremist ideology, coming by buses and taxis to my city and marching the streets at night while the Palestinian Arabs are under curfew—and they marched freely, protected by the police and committing attacks on Palestinian homes and Palestinian cars and Palestinian individuals, humans, kicking them, throwing stones, burning their cars, burning their homes: That [creates] the feeling that you are not an equal citizen, and you can be killed, and you can be murdered, and no one will help you. You pay taxes, and the police won’t help you. Tamer called the police, but the police didn’t help him. Other Palestinian families in Lydd, they said “We called the police and the police said ‘Yes, you are Arab, you all need to die.’” That’s what the police answered the people in Lydd in the last six, seven days.
So, it is very traumatic for us. It’s scary. We have kids and we have families. And we don’t want what happened in 1948 to happen to us again. And we are not expecting the international community to come now and to help us, because we have bad experience with the international community regarding the Palestinian cause in general. But we want to put [out] the truth of what’s happening because our grandmothers and our grandfathers didn’t have a voice even to speak about their pain or what happened to them.
Aloni: Would you agree that even though you try to call it one Palestine, Israel very successfully made many people feel that each one is a different identity? And part of your mission, as DAM, even as young kids, was to tell everyone, “No, we are one nation even though they cut us to pieces”?
Jrere: Well, yeah, firstly, it’s an Israeli policy to separate the Palestinian people. Even in the West Bank itself, the villages are, in a way, separated from the major cities like Ramallah or Bethlehem. Also, the occupied East of Jerusalem. For us, every Palestinian is living in a way in different conditions. In Lydd, you have us who, our identities are very not clear to us because we go to Israeli schools, and what we’ve been taught there is not our history. We are forbidden actually to be educated about our history.
Aloni: Can you explain what you mean by forbidden?
Jrere: We can’t learn about Mahmoud Darwish, for example, who is the most important poet in Palestine. We can learn about Herzl. We can learn about our occupiers, but we cannot learn about our own poets and leaders.
Aloni: And by law, you’re also not allowed to have a public memory of the Nakba, of your disaster?
Jrere: Yes, it’s not been taught in schools. It’s not been mentioned. It’s something that we share, and we remember from our grandfathers and our grandmothers. They are the ones who are telling us the stories of the Nakba.
So it’s very systematically disconnected us from our nationality, from our Palestinian nationality. And Lydd is one of the toughest cities in that matter and one of the cities that really suffered from this kind of separation from the Palestinian identity. The difference [from when] I lived in Lydd and also lived in Ramallah is that Ramallah is a Palestinian city and they have access for building their identity, for learning the history, for learning who they are as Palestinians and as Arabs.
Aloni: Do you think Israel has succeeded in making many Palestinian citizens of Israel forget their Palestinian-hood?
Jrere: I think yeah, for part of the Palestinians living inside of Israel, yeah. Because there is a whole system that’s working to do that, since 1948 till now. There are books that were published about how the [Shin Bet] was putting principals in the Arabic schools. They were appointed by the Israeli Shin Bet. So there is a very big effort by the Israeli government and system to separate us from our identity, to break our identity, actually. Part of our growing up in Lydd, we didn’t have awareness about our Palestinian identity in the beginning. It’s something that we, in a way, self-educated ourselves about after the Second Intifada. And that’s something that’s happened with a lot of Palestinians who live inside of Israel.
Aloni: Do you think that recent events have changed that? That they’re making many more young people understand that they are Palestinian?
Tamer Nafar: The last uprising was actually the result of that knowledge, not the beginning of the knowledge. And I think that the knowledge and the Palestinian identity inside of Israel is a result of a few things, but I will say which is the biggest one in my opinion: It’s a result of the Internet. Now people can communicate. The Second Intifada brought all of this. It’s not like Israel is like, “Okay, we took Palestine and now you’re going to be Israel.” It was, “We took Palestine, and you cannot enter if you’re not part of Israel.” It’s about Israel doing the maximum to make you not be a part of anything, and that what makes people…
Aloni: Now I want to ask you, Tamer, to speak with you a little bit about the word “violence.” It’s not only that Jews just came in, did violence on you. [Palestinians] were also in the street, violent, and there was one a Jewish person that was killed by this violence. So, can you describe to me the violence of both sides? Where do you see the difference? What do you condemn? What you agree with?
Nafar: I hate violence—period. In general, I don’t think there are people, at least from the people I know, that see an act of violence and they like it or they want to see it. Do you think that I like to see young Arabs throwing stones? I’d rather see them writing poems or having offices. This is what I want for my kids.
But again, you can never compare between the violence of the oppressor and the violence of the oppressed. You can never compare between those two. If you want to compare by numbers and percentages, the violence of the Israelis is way more. It also comes with lynchings. It also starts with attacking our olive trees in the settlements. It starts with police brutality. It starts with house demolitions, with bulldozers killing people in Gaza, and one of the biggest violent Israeli forces is the army. And our violence is always a reaction. The Palestinian violence is always a reaction. As Walter Benjamin, the Jewish philosopher, taught us, there is a fundamental difference between the violence of the oppressed, it’s a spontaneous one, and the violence of the rulers, that is organized and planned.
Aloni: I want to compare the first Intifada to what’s happening now in the cities of Haifa, Jaffa. I noticed that in this uprising there is a very strong voice from women that [doesn’t] so much exist in Hamas for example, but it very much exists when there is a popular uprising from the street up. Do I see something right or am I just romanticizing?
Jrere: Oh, women were part of the Palestinian struggle since forever, since 1948. I mean, one of the most famous photos in the First Intifada was of a woman throwing stones in Bethlehem, throwing stones at tanks in Bethlehem. And she is…wearing a wedding dress. So women were always part of the Palestinian struggle and they are a strong part of it. Women are also victims of the occupation. Now it’s very convenient to Israel and to the Western media to put Hamas in front of our struggle, because then they can justify all the war crimes that are happening in Palestine. [But] you can see when you are looking at musicians and influencers, you can see how active a role Palestinian women have.
Aloni: [But] it’s not so much mentioned, I think.
Nafar: Not mentioned where? In the Israeli media? In the world media? Where? The last thing that Israel wants to show is Palestinian women fighting their occupation, because then it will break the whole thing of “We are helping women’s rights, we are helping gay rights, we are saving them from theirselves.”
Jrere: It doesn’t fit their strategy of dehumanizing the Palestinian people. That’s the reason they don’t show it.
Aloni: I did notice that many, many of the Palestinian artists are on the front of the struggle. Do you feel any support from Israeli artists to your struggle?
Nafar: There are a few. It’s a few. Israel keeps talking about coexistence. So, I’m thinking to promote a new term that ‘s called “co-resistance” and not coexistence. And when I talk about that, I’m talking about those Jews who are similar to the white people that march with Black Lives Matter. [They’re] not trying to tell them “all lives matter.” [They’re saying] “No, you are what matter now. It’s about people that need us in [their] struggle.” And so, I think that we, the Palestinians and the anti-apartheid Jews, especially, should start forming a new thing called co-resistance.
Aloni: Are you welcoming them?
Jrere: A few of them are speaking up and they have strong voices. They also are being attacked by the Israeli right. They are also being put in a bad situation. I mean, it’s not easy nowadays inside of Israel to speak about Palestinian human rights. In a way, they are facing the same attacks, the verbal attacks that also Palestinian artists are faced with because Israel doesn’t want to hear about Palestinian struggle or about our human rights.
Aloni: Do you feel that the Black Lives Matter movement helps the world to understand your narratives better?
Nafar: I can’t tell. It’s too soon to talk. But, as somebody who grew up on hip-hop, I would say that personally, the way I talk, the way I speak, I owe the African American culture a lot. During the Black Lives Matter [protests], I used to say, “The way it’s organized is so inspiring.” So, for me personally, I would say yeah.
Do you want to hear a joke? I’ve known about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King way before I knew about Darwish—because of hip-hop.
Aloni: Tell me each one final statement.
Nafar: My statement is I stopped wearing kafkafim [flip flops], like Gandhi. Because every time I leave the house I really think, “It might be a lynching and maybe I should be with my running shoes.”
Aloni: And Mahmood? Do you really think that the Palestinian citizens of Israel need international intervention to protect you from the State of Israel?
Jrere: You got a whole system that’s working against you, including the media, where you have people going on air saying, “We should kill all Arabs.” This is becoming a scary reality to live in. But our call is also not only for protection. Our call is to call the UN to investigate the Israeli apartheid and look at the report that was published by Human Rights Watch. We live discrimination, everyday discrimination. Now that there is a cease-fire, people will go [on with] their business, but we will still be living here where we don’t have the same rights as Jewish citizens.
Editor’s Note: In the days following the release of DAM and Lydd’s call to action, more than 1,000 musicians, writers, and activists signed on, including Lauryn Hill. In gratitude for the support, Rasha Nahas and Maysa Daw, Palestinian artists from Haifa (and, in the case of Daw, a member of DAM), wrote to Hill to thank her “for showing solidarity and standing together with us for our safety and freedom.” They continued, “To be completely honest, although we are hopeful, we are feeling extremely disoriented at the moment. We’re finding it hard to write and explain the reality that we and our community have been experiencing over the last weeks.
“Our city, as well as many cities inhabited by Palestinians, have been viciously attacked by Zionist extremists, who have been vandalizing our property, entering our homes, terrorizing our neighborhoods, physically attacking us, marking our doors and houses for future attacks and chanting ‘death to Arabs’ on the streets and on television, without any legal consequences.” They concluded, “Now more than ever, we do not feel safe.”