Straight Outta Palestine

VIBE March 2008That’s the title of a piece I recently wrote about hip-hop in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel for VIBE. It’s in their March 2008 “Hollywood” issue, the one with Robert DeNiro and 50 Cent on the cover, as seen at left.

The narrative focuses on the completion of Palestinian-American artist/director Jackie Salloum’s new doc, Slingshot Hip-Hop, and the experiences of her film’s subjects, especially the Palestinian crew DAM, within the setting of Israeli occupation of the aforementioned territories.

It was one of the hardest articles I’ve ever written, not only due to the fractal-like, almost never-ending complexity of the subject, but even more due to my initial lack of familiarity with virtually every major detail around it. One of the first questions I asked Salloum: Why is it called “the West Bank” when it’s in the eastern part of the Occupied Territories? A member of her team kindly answered: It’s on the west bank of the Jordan River.

Most of all, however, it’s long been clear to me as an observer that almost any discussion of Israeli-Palestinian relations will rapidly become combative when that discourse takes a pro-Palestinian stance. By “pro-Palestinian,” I mean this both positively (affirming Palestinian sovereignty) and negatively (decrying Israeli outrages and atrocities). This reality added another layer of entanglement that worked against writing comprehensively.

I’m a quick study though, as the saying goes, and I got a lot of help; conversations with authors Phyllis Bennis (Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer; Olive Branch), Phillip C. Winslow (Victory for Us Is to See You Suffer: In the West Bank with the Palestinians and the Israelis; Beacon) and Joel Kovel (Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine; Pluto/Between The Lines) helped me clarify and organize my thinking.

The Israel LobbyBooks by Norman G. Finkelstein (Beyond Chutzpah; UCP), Jimmy Carter (Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid; Simon & Schuster), Ilan Pappe (The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine; One World), and John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt (The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy; FSG) helped make the relevant issues clear. I also was able to memorably speak with artists like Aswatt, from the trip-dubbish Ramallah Underground, and Ontarioan (by way of Jenin) rapper Belly.

Most of what I read in these books, and/or on the hundreds of pages I printed out from dozens and dozens of web sites, or heard from the artists who weren’t in Salloum’s film, didn’t get into the final piece, or, in some instances, anywhere near it. However, all of it was extremely thoughtful and beneficial, and I expect will be even more helpful in the future. Hope you enjoy the piece.


• I’ll be a guest on the WNYC-NY/93.9 FM radio show, Soundcheck, hosted by John Schaefer, on Wednesday, March 5th, and there to briefly talk about my article. (Try and listen or call in, if you can, or check out the show on their web site at a later time, if you can’t.) John and his staff were kind enough to have me on a couple of weeks back to dialogue about the 25th anniversary of Marvin Gaye’s haunting and legendary 1983 All Star Game performance of “The Star Spangled Banner,” our national anthem. The conversation, which included pianist Bruce Hornsby, was quite rich.

• Jackie Salloum’s 89-minute Slingshot Hip-Hop will be part of the 37th New Directors/New Films (ND/NF) series, hosted by Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, here in New York.

It’ll show at Lincoln Center on Saturday, April 5th, at 9 pm, and at MoMA on Sunday, April 6th, 4 pm. Check ND/NF, or for more info.



#1 INVINCILANA on 04.11.08 at 3:36 pm

powerful article and radio story. It is refreshing to hear you were so thorough in your research. MUCH RESPECT invincible

#2 ted on 04.16.08 at 1:46 pm

The article in Vibe, which I just now read, is great. I’m really impressed at how much work you did for the background. I wish the article was up on the web so more folks could see it. I hope the film begins to circulate to the heartland soon. Peace, ted

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