Hebrew Songs Making A Comeback In Gaza
Hebrew Songs Making A Comeback In Gaza
By Yasser Abu Moailek
As taxi driver Salem Mallahi goes about his daily work on the streets of Gaza City, he always listens to music. In the past couple of months, however, new and unlikely music tapes have started filling up space in his car's already overflowing glove compartment - tapes of Hebrew songs.
Mallahi was first introduced to Hebrew music a worker inside Israel. Mallahi was in his early twenties then, and the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip was not as hard as it has been in recent years, he says. Life for the Palestinians, according to Mallahi, was easier those days.
"We were in a taxi heading to Haifa to the factory we worked at," Mallahi said. "The driver was Jewish and was listening to [Israeli singer] Zahava Ben. Her voice and music were very oriental, and I've liked Hebrew music ever since," Mallahi said.
During the time he spent working in Israel, Mallahi discovered that many of his Palestinian coworkers also enjoyed listening to those Hebrew songs that had an oriental flavor. He started listening more, and became a fervent fan.
Even when the first Palestinian intifada broke out in 1987, Mallahi and others like him remained hooked on these songs. It was the melodies, rather than the lyrics, that appealed to them.
"Israeli music had this special flavor that combines oriental and western instruments, producing an exotic tune that is comfortable to listen to," says 32-year-old Fadi Dohan, a tailor who used to work at an Israeli sewing factory in the Israeli town of Khadera.
"I know that most of the Israeli singers we listen to originally came from Arab countries like Morocco, Iraq and even Yemen," Dohan says. "They knew Arabic and some of them were brought up just like us, which explains their oriental tone," he adds.
Indeed, it was not unusual for a Hebrew tape to have at least one Arabic song performed as an original by the Israeli singer or as an remake of famous Arabic songs.
After the signing of the Oslo peace accords and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, more Palestinians started buying Hebrew music.
"The PA realized that there were many people who liked Hebrew songs, so they hosted Zahava Ben here in a concert in Gaza, and she sang in Hebrew and in Arabic. It was broadcast live on Palestine TV at that time," Dohan reminisces.
However, admiration for these songs rapidly dwindled after the second intifada broke out in September 2000, as Israeli forces invaded large parts of Gaza Strip.
It was hard for the fans of Hebrew song to put these songs on the shelf, but listening to them in public reminded Palestinians of their oppressors.
Khader Abbas, a psychology professor at Al Azhar University in Gaza, adds that the rise in religious zeal in Gaza has contributed to a decrease in the number of Gazans listening to Israeli music over the past five years.
"Hearing the Hebrew language brought back sorrow, anger and despair, because it became the language of the soldier who shoots and demolishes life, and the language that was heard at checkpoints," he says. "It became the language of death to Palestinians."
Music store owner Fadi Moshtaha says he used sell 1000 Hebrew music tapes every month before the outbreak of the second intifada. Over the past few years, however, he hardly sold a handful.
"The rise in nationalism and the domination of Islamic resistance movements drove people to steer away from anything Israeli, and instead, they started buying Koran recitals and nationalist songs that glorify martyrs and resistance attacks," says Moshtaha.
In addition, he says, listening to Hebrew music during the Intifada was considered by many to be "consorting with the enemy", an accusation that could cast heavy shadows on listeners or buyers of such music.
Earlier this year, when Mahmoud Abbas was elected president of the PA, prospects of peace were finally glimpsed in the horizon, and accordingly Palestinian attitudes to Hebrew music began to change.
And with the ensuing ceasefire declaration by Palestinian militant groups last February, people began smelling peace in the air, and Gaza was ready to receive Hebrew music again.
At the Azhar University park, where dozens of students relax on the lawns with their books and bags, Emran Abu Amra turns on his stereo and listens at full volume to a song performed by Israeli singer Dodo Yasmine.
Back at the nearby coffee shop and snack bar of which he is owner, Abu Amra opens a drawer chock-full of Hebrew music tapes. Now is the time to bring them out again, he says.
"With the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza taking place, these songs have ceased to be a taboo. I like listening to Israeli music, and sometimes when I'm alone or late at night at my coffee shop, I switch to the Israeli army radio, where they play some really good songs," he says.
Also optimistic about the Israeli disengagement from Gaza is Moshtaha, the music store owner. He has taken the Hebrew music tapes and compact discs that he wasn't able to sell during the intifada, and has lined them up on a rack.
"I've already made some phone calls to bring new albums from Israel, but I need to at least recoup some of my losses in these tapes by selling them as vintage Hebrew music," Moshtaha says with a big smile on his face.