ArtsMiddle EastMusic

Tyrants’ Fear of Songs: Music and Resistance from Gaza

“We sing for all the oppressed, whether they are martyrs or prisoners or the wounded who dedicated their lives to our homeland.” 

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“We sing for all the oppressed, whether they are martyrs or prisoners or the wounded who dedicated their lives to our homeland.” 

Editor’s Note: This article was first published in 2019

Gaza, which has become synonymous with the concept of the world’s largest open-air prison, has been subjected to various interpretations of what constitutes the enclave. The definitions imposed upon Gaza are mostly external, detached, and lacking in understanding which only the Palestinians living there should have the authority and possibility to impart. 

What would music from Palestinians in Gaza communicate? The recent release of Tyrants’ Fear of Songs by Dr Haidar Eid, an intellectual and BDS activist from Gaza, reveals the Palestinian commitment to resistance within the context of history, land and memory. It is a necessary contribution which expresses the need to be heard over the voices claiming to speak “for Palestine”, as opposed to creating the spaces for Palestinians to speak for themselves.

Speaking to The Muslim Vibe, Haidar Eid explains:

The Orientalist idea that Apartheid Israel has been spreading about the Gaza Strip describes it  as ‘backward’, ‘fundamentalist’, ‘uncivilised’, ‘anti-democratic’, ‘anti-women’, ‘anti-life’; therefore, there is no art production. The album’s tracks mostly deal with resistance in the existential sense of the word.” 

Khalil Abu Yahya, a BDS activist from Gaza and the coordinator for the production of this album, says that the music imparts various themes: resistance, consciousness, heritage, and existence. “I consider our work as a revival of our culture which Israel has stolen over the years. Our culture is part of our identity and constitutes a very important tool to counter the Zionist racist ideology.” Abu Yahya asserts:

We sing for all the oppressed, whether they are martyrs or prisoners or the wounded who dedicated their lives to our homeland.” 

Portraying the Palestinian attachment to land is both a historical and current endeavour. Yet the nostalgia for the homeland is not depicted merely as an unreachable memory. The memory fuels resistance and the songs carry an acknowledgement of past and present struggles. 

Eid’s description of the songs indicate the strength of Palestinian consciousness which maintains the equilibrium between the knowledge of what was lost to colonisation, and the dream that would see Palestinians return to historic Palestine. “The land in one of the songs titled Our beautiful Land is portrayed as a beautiful woman in a cage, surrounded by wild wolves in a green garden that has been burnt down. In the opening medley, Songs of Resistance, there are words of commitment to return and to see our land, its sky and soil again. From Zarnouqa to Gaza describes an abundant landscape with palm trees, an expanse of fields and a cool breeze. The song commences with a description of what was left behind when the village was ethnically cleansed and calls on Gazans to speak out and resist – a call to follow the footsteps of the fallen heroes Ghassan kanafani, Basel Al-Araj and Naji Al Ali.”

“As the album’s coordinator,” Abu Yahya ruminates, “I believe in the power of culture in confronting the culture of power’, as Edward Said would have put it”. 

Israel has persisted in manipulating Gaza’s image to the world, to depict violence in place of a resistance that encompasses all forms, including culture and art. Yahya explains:

I know that Israel would not like an activist like me to be aware of the role art can play, when it has been monopolising art to whitewash itself. We in Gaza are ready to use every possible way to prove that we do exist and we do have voices. Nothing can stop the will of the oppressed.” 

Producing the album, Abu Yahya says, was not easy “under a medieval siege, military occupation, and an institutionalised and legalised apartheid.” 

It is the music that communicates the ugliness of apartheid, he says, which is “so ugly that words alone cannot describe it. Our songs do that through emotions and the ideas streamed through out voices.  No one can express what the oppressed feel except the oppressed themselves.”  

Palestinians, Abu Yahya affirms, will continue to resist.

“We are resisting. We are up to the task. We are paving the way for the next generations and we are sending our message to reach out and be etched in history. Palestinians have resisted with the aim of obtaining their full rights. We will not surrender.” 

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