art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict

(Interview) Tamara Erde: On History, Memory & Living Near the Livings.

Tamara Erde is a French-Israeli filmmaker who creates in various mediums, from documentary and fiction films, to performances and video installations. Erde is a brave artistic soul, often taking from her most personal places and transforming it into her art. In her work, she often deals with political and social issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That is what hits home. I was truly happy to be able to do the following interview and get to know more about Tamara’s work and her personal journey while making it.

Capture/Tamara Erde in Cell in a Human Scale/

Being born and raised in Israel, Israel being a part of your identity, did you have issues when you first started making films about different layers of Israeli – Palestinian conflict? Did you feel your work will be politicized, dissected in a particular way?

Yes, having been born and raised in Israel, and later on deciding to live and work on different, critical aspects of the Israeli society and politics, it has been a rather difficult process, to acknowledge I will face the unsatisfaction and sometimes anger of many of my friends and society in which I grew. I also have my films shown less in Israel then in anywhere else, so this is also a shame for me, as I’d love to show them there too and arouse a discussion about it. But I guess that indeed, once they touch core political problems that are in the basis of the perception and life views there, it is directly politicized and remains only as a political work and not a cinematic, creation as well.

In your documentary film released this year, This is my Land, you focus on how  Palestinian and Israeli (Jewish and Arab) education systems teach the history of their nations. You also confront your own history (in relation to the land) and the way it was built up, created. You admit you first started asking questions and having doubts about the nature of Israeli occupation during the army service. Could you tell me more about this film and the experience of it, but also the story of your personal journey, which could be marked as – before and after – the army service?

I have decided to do this film when I found myself, about two years ago, asking myself how come I didn’t know and didn’t search to know, what I do now, about the history of my country and my region. Because the information is out there, in Internet, in books, in the mouth of people. And for me the direct answer was – the education I got. So that has brought me to wish and come back to Israel but also to Palestine, and see now, from my new perspective, how kids are taught.

Until my army service, I was very zionist and nationalist. I didn’t know much about the conflict, I didn’t have contact with Palestinian people, nor did I think about it too much. My army service was during the second Intifada, I saw then how the decision are taken, how life are being played with for political little reasons, I saw for the first time (even though it was sadly through the information computer screens) Palestinian people. And this has made me start asking question and doubting what I was doing and believing till then. From that I went to a journey of some time, trying to learn and research the story of “the other side”.

Very few children can see through and doubt the education they receive. I am sure that if I had to go back to school, changing the position – going to a Palestinian school, or to an orthodox religious school, I would have been following this sets of values and beliefs. Very few people also doubt or question their education on their later life, as adults. I had the chance to do it thanks to my profession, to my films that have brought me, and still do, to discover and investigate about my identity, and the society I live in, or from which I come.

But even though the ability to change the way a child perceives his education is so small, the ability to change the education we give him, is much more probable, and possible. For me, this voyage I wish to go on with this film, back to this primal encounter with the teachers, and the school, in the place where I was born, which imposes the charge of the conflict, is a way to make myself, and hopefully my viewers, think about the way we can change the education system, and assure a better future society and life for the generations to come. And I think this is true to Israel-Palestine, but also to many other places around the world.

disney ramallah/Disney Ramallah/

Disney Ramallah is your latest short film. It is a story of a father and son in Ramallah, confronted to the harsh reality during the Second Intifada. The boy has one dream – to go to Euro Disney for his birthday. Of course, that is not possible, and the father ends up making a home-made alternative universe for his son. Something in this story, the creative magic and will maybe, reminded me of Yalla to the moonThere is something mesmerizing about these parallel universes people create among the harshest of conditions, which also remindes me of Guido Orefice in La Vitta è Bella. What inspired you to write and direct this story? 

I have written this story basing on my experiences and what I have seen during the Second Intifada when I was in the army, but also what I have seen later on, in the West Bank, when I have met many children and heard their stories and their families stories. One of the things that inspired me mostly was their energy, their hope, their great force of life, even in the harder and most extreme situations. That has made me imagine that boy that all he wants, like many kids, is to go to EuroDisney, and what happened when this meets his father’s harsh daily struggle, who has put aside his childhood dreams and urges.

When I was a child, I grew up alone with my mother, since my dad died before I was born. At nights, sometimes, I used to be afraid that she will die too, leaving me alone in the world. And so, I used to ask her, simply, what if… And she used to tell me the name of her friend; she will take care of you if I die, I talked to her about it, she will adopt you. For some months, years even, I remember, I kept repeating this question, wishing only for one answer: I won’t die.., but she never said this to me. She told me the truth, at simple as it was.

And years later, I kept asking myself about it… What would I do? Do we always need to tell the truth to our children? What does protecting someone means? Hiding from him sometimes? Or on the contrary remaining loyal to the truth? Or maybe creating a different, imagined truth, for those we love. Those questions, daily dilemmas, of parents, of human relationships, are in the heart of Disney Ramallah. In this story, an additional aspect joins those universal story of father and son, since Rabia and Ahmed live in Ramallah, in a complexed reality.

You create in various mediums, not just film. One of your installations and performances is A Soldier’s Dream.  It was influenced by poems of the great Mahmoud Darwish, and aims to give a visual personal adaptation to his writingHomeland, in the context of Israel and Palestine, is a complex term. It involves memories and realities, leaving and returning (in both space and time), waiting and expecting, and generally – an internal state of chaos and confusion. It is not just Darwish who struggles with the notion of homeland. Kanafani writes in Returning to Haifa: “What is a homeland? Is it these two chairs that remained in this room for twenty years? The table? Peacock feathers? The picture of Jerusalem on the wall? The copper lock? The oak tree? The balcony? What is a homeland? Khaldun? Our illusions of him? Fathers? Their sons? What is a homeland? Is it the picture of his brother hanging on the wall?” How do you see this issue of  homeland, and why did you approach Darwish and his poetry through your installations and performances?

It was after my last visit to Israel, on the spring of 2010, that I’ve decided to create this project around the poems ad writing of Mahmoud Darwish. On my return to France after that visit, I felt more then ever helpless, seeing the frozen situation, the immobile misery and injustice that have long ago conquered this land. In front of my eyes I still had this image of the sea, near Gaza, divided by the separation wall, thinking – what else can be done when even the water are bound to surround. I’m looking again, now in France, at the few pictures I’ve managed to take there, at the point where the wall meets the sea, before the soldiers came with their weapons towards me.

Staring at this black and white desperate silence of the water, I recalled Darwish’s texts about the water; “Who says that water has no color, flavor or smell?” [Memory of forgetfulness].

I thought about the relation between words and images when confronting those ungraspable impermeability, where is their limit in view of that, where are there points of force, of challenge and of completion. It was from that desperation that I felt a need to return to the words of Darwish, whose words are imprints of footsteps on this sands of misery, of that surrounding water, and yet, of the whole world outside, of the love and the hope deriving from the simple beauty, form the power of the sincere words, phrases, memories.

In Forgotten Oceans, an experimental dance film, you explore the theme of physical memories of spaces. Again, such an important theme concerning the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, its millions of people living in exile and millions of memories that were and are wiped out. Like Khaled Juma asks in The Unseen aspects of War: “Are the memories we grew up with which are destroyed not pieces of us? Should we not consider the destruction of the places in which we were raised with these memories to be the destruction of a part of us, just like our hands, our heads, or our hearts?” It is like the “my tree was gone” moment from your film. Why did you find it important to make this fim, to do this exploration, and could you relate it to Israeli – Palestinian conflict, from your own perspective?

Actually, this video dance, that I created in an aim to develop and include in a performance piece later on, is also the continuation of my work inspired by Darwish, aims to give a visual personal adaptation to his writing. Being an Israeli I was amazed how many things I have discovered, when reading Darwish’s poems, on my “Homeland”, how close I felt to his words, and how painful it was. His words, have become, to me, a life-time journey, and this performance was part of this journey.

The poetic, the never ending, floating magical words, are living side by side with reality, with the aching sand grains of this land. On the video dance Forgotten Oceans the scene is to describe a “no man’s” land on which all characters are immigrants. Turning around, discovering the new space, the new land that is assumed to be their new “home”, again. A land on which they have no past, no memories or acquaintance, and apparently no future either. They are doomed to eternal wonderings.

forgotten oceans/Forgotten Oceans/

Based on the poetry of Mahmod Darwish; the physical choreographically language of the piece, as well as the visual language, aim to create this sense of “no people” on a “no land”. The characters existence in the space is never substantial, no relation is ever physically created between them. “We live near the livings”, Darwish once wrote about his people, and it s this sense of the term “exile” that I wish to give to the spectators in this piece.

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 /all images via Tamara Erde/

For more on Tamara and her work, visit her website.

art of resistance, Palestine

(Interview) DAM: When The Levee Breaks.

I guess this is my first Throwback Thursday. Half a year ago, I did an interview with DAM’s Suhell Nafar, it was published on Reorient Magazine, but I never reposted it here. It was a lovely interview and I enjoyed it very much, so I am posting it here today.

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Heralded by Le Monde as ‘the spokesmen of a new generation’, the members of DAM – the first [known] Palestinian hip-hop crew and among the first musicians to rap in Arabic – began working together in the late 90s. Struck by the uncanny resemblance of the streets in a Tupac video to those of their own neighbourhood in Lod, brothers Tamer and Suhell Nafar, along with Mahmoud Jreri were inspired to tell their stories through song. They’ve come a long way since the 90s, and part of their tale has been documented in the acclaimed film, Slingshot Hip Hop, directed by Jackie Reem Salloum. As well, a year ago, they released the long-awaited album, Dabke on the Moon, to popular acclaim. Despite their growing popularity, however, they’re still largely unknown in many parts of the world, including the Middle East.

To find out more about the group and to help shine a light on their music, I spoke with Suhell Nafar, with whom I discussed DAM’s projects, the universality of their messages, and their role in the Palestinian struggle.

DAM-slider/photo via DAM/

Who is DAM?

I was a little kid when we started. We grew up, our political views changed … we’ve seen a lot of things, travelled around, performed, met people … we’ve seen things from so many perspectives … our writing [kept getting] stronger, we got stronger [as a result].

And Palestine today? How do you see the peace negotiations?

The same situation, the same occupation. About the peace negotiations: [they’ve] been sold out; nobody here even paid much attention to them – we expected nothing from them. You can’t have peace or talk [about] peace when there are new settlements being built, when there’s ongoing police brutality … Palestine today is not much different than the Palestine of my childhood. There are these little moments – moments when everything seems worse, or moments of hope, when [things] get better; But all in all, [there have been] no big changes.

In a way, it could be argued that the Palestinian situation has taken away many freedoms of life to become a meaning in itself, in terms of resistance. What do you think about the Palestinian cause being such an important part of life and identity in Palestine?

Well, that’s really bothering … this is what [we are] dealing with in our [songs]. Life here … it’s not black and white, you know – it’s colourful; there are happy songs, love songs, etc. There are many layers to Palestinian life and identity – not just [the] occupation. It’s like Mahmoud Darwish wrote in his poem: Palestinians don’t only die from occupation – they die because of diseases, getting old, etc. Palestinians existed before [the] occupation, and will exist after this occupation.

Just as Edward Said wrote about many local Palestinian issues, such as the weaknesses of the Palestinian leadership, your songs deal with issues within Palestine – not just with respect to outsiders and/or aggressors and their allies. In If I Could Go Back in Time from Dabke on the Moon, you address the problem of honour killings, for instance.

If we use our music to rap only against the occupation, I think it would be fake; it would be using dead people for our fame, in a way. Rapping about women’s rights is as important as rapping about the occupation. You know, without social justice, there’s no freedom; so, we feel it’s important to raise our voices and bring [to light] all the issues Palestinians [are facing] today.

When you started out, the hip-hop scene in Palestine was almost non-existent. Slingshot Hip Hop follows your story, as well as that of the growing Palestinian hip-hop scene. You were also among the first to encourage female rappers to join you and create music of their own. How is the situation now?

The scene is much bigger now, in general. When we started, there were no hip-hop studios, no producers – nothing. In the last 15 years, it [has] changed a lot; there are many studios now … there are rock, pop, [and] reggae singers too – not just rappers. There’s a whole new generation, and I feel [the singers] are getting stronger and stronger. There are [many] more female rappers too, of course. There are these two girls, Dammar … I used to see them at protests, and then I saw them rapping. They are seventeen now, and great; they are protesting, rapping, [and] break dancing.

How about collaborations with other Palestinian rappers? In Slingshot Hip Hop, one sees how hard it is for rappers from Gaza to perform and make music together. How has the situation changed, if at all?

Well, I have to say it’s easier now than [when] Slingshot Hip Hop [was made]. The Internet has developed, and there are social networks, so we always keep in touch, [and] exchange our thoughts, ideas, projects, etc. We recently did the Israel vs. Palestine Rap News24, which was a great collaboration. There are more platforms for [these sorts of projects] now. That’s about it. But about Gaza – people from Gaza still can’t come to us, and we still haven’t been in Gaza. We never went there. Ever.

Your new album is finally out, after much anticipation. What is Dabke on the Moon all about, in a nutshell?

Ok … so, dabke is a traditional folk dance. There’s this thing all these modern countries [do]: when they go to the moon, they stick a flag on it. It’s always [about] this patriotic stuff. We don’t care about that … we care about art; and when we go to the moon, we want to dance on the moon. The idea for the name came to my brother, Tamer. He was reading the newspaper, and saw all this stuff about NASA going to the moon, and [then] he turned the page and there was news about people from Gaza digging tunnels. [There] was this great contrast … part of the money used against Palestinians comes from NASA’s homeland, so in a way, what’s helping NASA go up is at the same time pushing us down.

Dabke on the Moon is a special album. The production is great – we had an excellent producer, Nabil Nafar. And, the most important thing: the album is much more personal [than our previous ones]. In If I Could Go Back in Time, we did not sing about honour killings in general – we sang about the stories from our city. In only one year, more than 13 girls were killed … Some of them we knew … we knew their parents. Also, when we sing about prisoners, we don’t sing about [them] in general – we [tell] stories of real people … people we know. It was hard, and I think you feel that when you listen to the album.

I think this leads us to the question of whether music and art can bring about meaningful change in societies. What do you think about this with respect to Palestine?

It’s like Tupac said: I’m not saying I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world. That’s what we are doing; we’re just a piece of the puzzle. There are many others – activists, writers, painters, politicians … we’re building this ‘puzzle’ slowly, and I hope it will [turn into] something beautiful. You know, this is not a conflict; if [both] sides had equal resources and power, it would be a conflict. But they don’t; this is a war. Art is important.

When you come to Palestine, you will see the most unique rap performances; you’ll see people from the age of five to the age of 90 dancing and clapping in the audience – male, female, Muslims, Christians, of all ages and religions. It’s important for us to create art, to raise [our] voices. We are the lucky ones who are still able to travel, to go around, to meet people. If I can get out, I need to use that and speak, to be a sort of PR for the Palestinian cause. You know, I’ve met people who [have] said to me, ‘I started learning Arabic because of DAM’. I’ve met Jews who [have] said it [has] helped them get a better insight [into the Palestinian situation], etc. Just think about the Natives in the USA, about African-Americans, about all those struggles … through hip-hop, we learn so much about the prisoners of this world. I feel we have to teach the way we were taught. It’s this ‘boomerang’ of hip-hop: it never stops, and it never stays [in] the same place. That is what I love so much about it.

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