The day rap came to Gaza

Bob Dylan went “electric” to angry shouts; the Rolling Stones watched Hells Angels stab a man to death at a 1968 free concert; and there was the time rap music came to the Gaza Strip.

It started innocently enough. The official Palestinian rally for Gaza’s “liberation” from Israel was winding down on Wednesday afternoon when a throbbing bass groove shook the ground in the former Jewish settlement of Neve Dekalim.

On stage, three fresh-faced men—hair gelled, clad in sports jerseys and baggy pants—swaggered and bobbed their heads, telling all the Shabab (young men) to wave their hands in the air.

The crowd swayed to the booming beat and the group PR (Palestinian Rappers) recited a song called al-Hurriya (freedom), until a few angry Islamists in the back fired their Kalashnikovs in the air.

A man screamed a Hamas-inspired chant about resistance and the crowd roared back Allah Akbar (God is Great). People lunged toward the stage and the sedate rally turned into bedlam.

Police fired warning shots, shoved the rappers into a cab as stone-hurling and stick-swinging teenage Hamas supporters chased after them.

Furious over their escape, the mob stoned police, yelling “the national security forces have sold our blood for the dollar” and the two sides skirmished for nearly 30 minutes across Neve Dekalim.

The clashes exposed once more Gaza’s wild nature, where a seemingly ordinary event can drag the territory into a vortex of chaos, where politics, religions and armed groups mix.

Angry teenagers cursed the group for defiling Islam and the Palestinian national struggle, oblivious to the song’s words which chronicle Gaza’s despair and rage after five years of intifada.

“They were singing disco.
This goes against the holy book [Koran],” said one 17-year-old teenager, Mohammed, as the skirmishes wound down after a group of police man-handled one trouble maker and roped the mob into a corner.

Back at their home in neighbouring Khan Yunis, PR sat smoking a water pipe and cigarettes as they did their best to forget the incident, chalking it up to the region’s rigid conservatism.

“At first they liked everything, how we rapped. It’s new. It was the first time people rapped in Khan Yunis, but people here are backwards,” said PR member Mohammed al-Fara.

“We have no more shows scheduled here, but if they asked us, we would.”

His mother yelled to him from outside his door ‘What happened with you and Hamas today’, and the 20-year-old winced, surrounded by the accoutrements of his musical life: a picture of him dressed like US rapper Eminem in a white tank top and cap.

His fellow rapper Moataz al-Hewihi received a phone call from his father, who had been barraged by calls saying Hamas supporters had shot his son.

The pair complained the crowd had not paid attention to their lyrics. Mohammed recited the words to the offending song: “Peace is dying. The new generation is asking what is the path, the path to freedom.”

Mohammed said the late US rapper Tupac Shakur inspired his group to make their music. All of them first heard rap music on mixed-tapes that floated through the Gaza Strip in the late 1990s.

“I loved Tupac so much. He used to rap about black people suffering from white people,” Mohammed confessed.

One of PR’s songs talks about Mohammed carrying the coffin of his friend Ibrahim who joined an armed group and died fighting the Israelis last year.

Mohammed himself was shot in his left arm throwing stones against Israeli soldiers in 2001 and it proved a wake up call for him.

“Everyone has his own way to get freedom. Some people fire guns. We have rap.” - AFP