Partying under occupation

Having been fairly unimpressed with the Arabic version of EuroPop that we have heard on the radio since being here, going to the Taybeh festival was a veritable feast of really brilliant music. As the sun was going down on the first night of the festival, a band called Toot Ard was playing and there were definitely some tangible Outlook vibes in the Taybeh village, as they played a set showcasing some of the best dub and reggae I’ve heard since discovering Fat Freddy’s Drop last year. As the lead singer of Toot Ard whipped the crowd up into a bouncing frenzy towards the climax of their set, he could certainly have given Gentleman Dub Club’s Jonathon Scratchly a run for his money.

The international comparisons aside, the Arabic influence on the band sparkled defiantly, and a Palestinian guy that we have befriended told me that the band is most often found at political demonstrations. I truly believe in using the power of culture to fight cultures of power, and looking at the energy and vibrancy of the people at the festival made me remember why I always recall to music when I am feeling the most disheartened about the world around me. This track was a particular favourite from their set…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QfXVGuvwd4&feature=related

On the second night of the festival, we arranged to meet our Palestinian friend again so that we could go and see DAM, a hugely popular Palestinian hip hop group. Unfortunately, there was a power cut at the festival about an hour after we got there (something which commonly happens in the West Bank due to the diversion of electricity supply to Israeli settlers), and so the gig was cancelled at the last minute. In the taxi on the way back from the festival, we were chatting with our new Pally pal who was telling us about what it is like living as a young person under the occupation, and the challenges faced by those who attempt to use culturally subversive means in order to defy Israel’s chokehold on Palestine.

He explained to us that in spite of the terrible things committed against Palestinians’ rights in the name of “security”, he wanted to meet as many Israelis as possible, as he had a firm belief in the fact that there must be other like-minded young Israelis who also wanted peace. He has being using a website called www.couchsurfing.com as a way to try and fulfil his desire to meet Israeli people and attempt to foster some mutual understanding, and perhaps reconciliation. For those who don’t know about Couch Surfing, on the site you make a profile and offer your couch to travellers who are looking for a host in an unknown city and somewhere to crash for free.

Through this he has met open-minded Israelis and formed lasting friendships, and I was taken aback by the brilliant simplicity of his utilisation of this online service. For those of you who know how much I love the internet, you can only imagine my unbridled glee at hearing about this. For all of those who whinge about young people today spending too much time online, the possibilities that the internet creates are absolutely limitless, and in the hands of creative and forward-thinking people it can be such an exciting forum for progress and rapid development.

Wanting to go to Tel Aviv to make a return visit to his new Israeli friends, but not contemplating applying for an Israeli visa just to be rejected, he decided to sneak his way into Israel. After bribing someone to allow him through the checkpoint, he was spotted by Israeli military who chased him from the border, but fortunately his Israeli friend was waiting in a car on the other side so he hopped in and they sped away. He spent three days partying in Tel Aviv and enjoying the trappings of what its burgeoning club scene has to offer, but in doing so was taking a huge risk. If he had been caught by the Israeli police, he would have faced at the very minimum a one month jail sentence. I think I have taken for granted things like being able to go out in London on a Friday night and see any type of music that takes my fancy, or being able to hop on a plane and go to a European festival, without having to worry about visas or IDF interrogation. For a Palestinian, however, it seems that one month’s jail sentence is the price you pay to party in an occupied state.

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