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Israeli-Arab rap: an outlet for youth protest

Palestinian hip-hop music - with lyrics in Hebrew, English, and Arabic - is gaining popularity.

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Over the past seven years, a musical phenomenon has been rising from the back streets of Israel's predominantly Muslim towns, and sweeping the overcrowded Palestinian cities and refugee camps of the West Bank and Gaza. It is Palestinian rap or hip-hop music, an exotic blend of Arabic melodies, Western beat, and fluid lyrics recited in English, Arabic, and, quite often, Hebrew.

Rap music first flourished in the ghettos of Los Angeles and New York during the 1970s. Now young Palestinian musicians have tailored the style to express their own grievances with the social and political climate in which they live and work.

After a long struggle, bands such as Dam (meaning "blood" in both Hebrew and Arabic) - the first to emerge on the scene in 1998 - are now gaining ground on the international stage.

The message of their music isn't always political. Their songs also confront other issues important to young Palestinians. But unlike American "gangster rappers," they protest against drugs and crime instead of glorifying them. These artists also consider rap music to be one of the few methods of self-expression for them in highly regulated Israel.

The three members of Dam - Tamer Nafar, Suhell Nafar, and Mahmoud Grere - are natives of Lod, a mixed Jewish-Muslim town in the center of Israel that is notorious for high crime, drug abuse, and soaring unemployment.

The Samekh Het district in which the musicians grew up is filled with blocks of decrepit apartments. The streets are unnamed and unpaved; garbage lies piled in the gutters and on street corners.

"No one cares about this area, because the residents are mostly 'Arabs,' " asserts Tamer, the guiding light of the group.

In many ways, the problems faced by these youths, commonly labeled "Israeli Arabs," are more complex than those of their fully Palestinian counterparts.

Despite restrictions on their daily lives, Palestinians retain a strong sense of identity. But Israeli Arabs are "caught in the middle," says Tamer. "To Israeli Jews, we're suicidal Arabs, but to the Arab countries, we're traitors."

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