Palestinian rhythms of resistance

Director Jackie Salloum says youth should resort to art to voice their dissent.

Jackie Salloum documentary
DAM, a Palestinian hip-hop band from Israel, as featured in Slingshot Hip Hop

Jackie Reem Salloum, a film director and activist, has been one of the key players in the movement to increase global interest in Palestinian art.

Born to Palestinian and Syrian parents in Dearborn, Michigan, her artwork was influenced by her experiences as a young woman in the Arab Diaspora.

During her late teens, she studied at the renowned Steinhardt art school at New York University, where she learned to reinterpret traditional American cultural symbols like gum ball machines to include references to revolutionary figures like Musa Kazim Pasha al-Husseini, a mayor of Jerusalem who was ousted in the 1920s for his opposition to British pro-Jewish policies.

In 2005, Salloum presented Planet of the Arabs, a nine-minute film about how Arabs are portrayed in the media, at the Sundance Film Festival.

However, Salloum would not find critical acclaim until her latest film, Slingshot Hip Hop, which was recently shown at the Toronto Palestine Film Festival.

In the 80-minute documentary, Salloum profiles the lives and art of Palestinian hip-hop artists living under Israeli occupation. Groups like DAM from the impoverished ghettoes of Lyd within Israel and P.R. from Gaza infuse energy into cultural resistance.

Al Jazeera recently caught up with Salloum in Toronto where she discussed her art and film and some of the obstacles she has encountered over the years.

Al Jazeera: Why do you consider your film to be a form of resistance?

Salloum: Any Arab who is putting out work that challenges stereotypes and state/foreign policies or creates work that reflects our culture and history is enacting resistance.

The film continues to show in festivals around the world, where many people are seeing images of Palestine and Palestinians for the first time.

The rappers featured in the film are opening a window into Palestinian life in their own way. The film is also an educational tool. It is used in the curriculums of many high schools and colleges across America.

Students from areas like Brooklyn, who are predominantly Black, Latino and Chicano, are being inspired by the struggle of the Palestinians.

They are finding connections between their own struggles, and the stories told about life in occupied Palestine and Apartheid Israel in the lyrics of Palestinian rappers.

Students from America have even written hip-hop songs honouring the rappers in Palestine using a mix of Arabic and American music. Those are some of the ways in which the film works as a form of resistance.

What obstacles did you face in making Slingshot Hip Hop?

Salloum says more Arab women should enter the arts

When I was trying to raise money for the project, I would always have to reassert the fact that the film is about the Palestinian hip-hop movement.

Most people would assume that my film was about Israelis and Palestinians coming together through hip-hop, and when they realised that it was just about the Palestinians, they would lose interest.

Eventually, I ran out of money and had to move back home with my parents, and work at the family ice cream store. I would scoop during the day, edit at night, and take all the profit from the ice cream parlour.

That is why, in the end of the film, you will read “Fresh Booza (ice cream in Arabic) Productions,” in homage to them.

Without them and support from the community and other artists, there would have been no funding for the film.

I also faced barriers shooting the film in Israel. As an Arab-American, going through Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv is always a challenging experience and getting into Gaza is even more difficult.

This is especially true when they know that your background is Palestinian. I was always stopped and interrogated, some times for more than seven hours.

The stress came from not knowing if you would be allowed in; I have many Arab friends who were denied entry. Once, the Israeli authorities broke my camera before returning it to me, and since then, I don’t carry any of my tapes or equipment with me when I travel.

I don’t think they’re afraid of me. They just don’t want their image tarnished. In that sense, Israel sees every camera as a threat. In the US, for example, the image of Israel is very controlled.

We never hear any criticism whatsoever of Israeli policies. Even when American civilians like Rachel Corrie was killed by an Israeli bulldozer, Israel’s actions are justified in the media as part of their fight against so-called terrorists in Gaza.

What is the relationship between Palestinian and Israeli rappers?

I didn’t want to make a film about Israelis and Palestinians coming together through rap because that wasn’t the reality of the hip-hop scene there.

There isn’t much collaboration between Palestinian and Israel rappers. The most popular Israeli hip-hop artist is a right-wing Zionist whose audience calls for death to Arabs at his shows.

Palestinian rappers and their audiences never advocate the killing of Israelis or Jews.

There are some Israeli rappers that are progressive and supportive of Palestinian hip- hop, working on collaborative projects with DAM and some other Arab-Israeli rappers.

However, that is not reflective of the mainstream Israeli hip-hop scene.

Abeer, a rapper, has inspired other
women in the Middle East

You have called on Arab women to be more involved in the arts?

It is always important to have women’s voices heard everywhere.

It is already difficult for most young Arabs, whether they are men or women, to tell their families that they want to get into the arts.

This reality is more compounded for women, who have to challenge ideas that want to keep them at home to cook and clean. When I told my parents I wanted to major in art they said “no be a pharmacist or a librarian”.

So I compromised a bit for them by majoring in graphic design, and they supported it. But I continued to make art and when they actually saw the effects it had and the media coverage they became very supportive and try to convince other Arab parents to tell their kids to become artists, filmmakers, and musicians.

Abeer, a Palestinian artist featured in the film, had to fight against threats from her cousins in order to get up on stage and sing. She had to do most of it in secrecy.

Despite that, she kept doing what she loved to do the most, which is making music.

Since the film’s screening in Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine, and even America, young women have flooded Abeer with emails showing their support and appreciation for the work that she is doing.

Many of them said that they were facing similar obstacles at home. Abeer has also received a lot of support from male Palestinian rappers who have refused to cut her out of their work, and have been critical of Arab societies for their treatment of women.

I want people in the Arab world to see young women like Abeer and the band Arapeyat and to realize that hip-hop isn’t like the candy-coated pop music that is predominantly coming out of America and the Arab world.

What are some of the most striking discoveries that you made about Palestine during the film?

For me, I have always had family that has lived in the West Bank, so I’m very familiar with life under occupation.

My only interaction with Israelis had been at checkpoints and airports, or when they are in their tanks or sniper towers. The film, however, introduced me to Palestinians living within lands occupied by Israel since 1948, or Israel.

I was immediately shocked with the amount of discrimination and oppression that these people faced living in Israel, despite having Israeli citizenship.

In particular, I was taken aback by the level of assimilation that Palestinians were subjected to. Some of the younger people I met were confused about their Palestinian identity, and would not know how to identify themselves.

This all serves to drive a wedge between an occupied people. It was difficult to see Palestinians who lived in the West Bank, Israel and Gaza not be able to actually go and visit each other.

Hip-hop served as a point of coming together for these Palestinian youth.

What can we expect from your next project?

Since the film took almost five years to make I want to spend some time working on getting Slingshot Hip Hop as successful as it can be now that it is out.

But eventually, I want to work on making music videos for Arab artists. Even if it is pop music, I think I can use those three minutes to put a story to the song.

I want to do something different than the candles, water, and women formula that is dominating our screens these days.

Source: Al Jazeera