A version of this article originally appeared on Noisey Netherlands.
In a region marked by war, tensions between two opposed populations and long-standing military occupation, it’s hard to find carefree clubgoers enjoying the local music scene. But in July 2018, during a Boiler Room broadcast from the Palestinian city of Ramallah, one could see plenty of young people dancing to a set by Jazar Crew. The DJ duo made up of Ayed Fadel and Rojeh Khleif is trying to breathe new life into the regional music scene by organizing parties where young Palestinians can momentarily forget the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Fadel and Khleif were recently in Amsterdam to speak about activism in their music as part of an event called Body in Revolt. I called Fadel and asked him about his work and the challenges the duo faces as they try to create a better reality for the Palestinian youth.
Noisey: Hi Ayed! What’s the idea behind Jazar Crew?
Ayed Fadel: We started our collective out of a need for a dance floor and safe space for the Palestinian community in the Israeli city of Haifa, where we live. We took the first step unconsciously, because we didn’t feel that, as an Arab community, we were welcomed and involved in the electronic music scene in Israel. We didn’t realize we would go in the direction we’re now.
Why didn’t you feel welcome?
Sadly, we Palestinians are regularly rejected at clubs and festivals in Israel. The host of a party or doorman would ask us for our military identity card, which we don’t have because Palestinians don’t join the Israeli army. They’d find ways to not let us in, so we decided to create a space by and for our own Palestinian community to dance.
How did you start off?
We started with an exclusive guest list of 50 people. No guestlist meant no entrance! We wanted to create a safe space free of homophobia, sexism, machismo, racism, and chauvinism—we’re very strict with that. The idea was to create a strong core, an Arab underground, on Israeli territory. Nowadays, we organize events in Jerusalem, Jaffa, and in the West Bank. At first, we as Palestinians on Israeli territory didn’t have a connection with the Palestinian community in the West Bank. Palestinians without an Israeli passport don’t have freedom of movement, so we grow up in separate communities and were disconnected from each other. We started to build a bridge between the communities and build up a [unified] Palestinian electronic music scene.
What are the challenges and barriers you face when organizing events on Palestinian territory?
When we started, it was difficult to manage everything in a practical way due to the fact that we were so [physically] disconnected from each other. The authorities weren’t making it any easier for us because they believe we only care about drugs, alcohol, and hedonism. I’d say that the age gap causes a [general] misunderstanding [on the part of] older generations. The authorities are unaware of our needs, such as the importance of building up a music scene and how that helps foster a collective Palestinian identity. An outlet like dancing or art is extremely important especially in an area without freedom of movement like Palestine. It’s extremely hard to obtain records because there aren’t any record stores in Palestine. Also, high quality sound systems are scarce, it’s hard to obtain a license to organize events, and officially we technically should end our parties by 1:00AM. They’ve been getting more strict recently but it doesn't matter, because they can’t make us stop—we’ve been playing digitally with MP3s and we do everything in our power to organize events where Palestinians can dance and forget the misery and the conflict they’re surrounded with all the time.
There was a lot of commotion recently about artists who would or wouldn’t perform in Israel. What’s your stance on #DJsForPalestine ?
I do support the movement, because I think a boycott of artists would put huge pressure on the Israeli government. Promoters and bookers will have more trouble finding artists and the boycott will make them reflect on the status quo. They’ll think about the ethical considerations of these artists, which is already a huge step.
Do you think more artists should become politically engaged?
Yes; art without a message isn’t art. Art comes from engagement and wanting to convey a message. Art shouldn’t only be fun but contain depth as well. My art represents the struggles that I face in daily life. As a DJ, I see music as an outlet to deal with them.
What do young Palestinians need, according to you?
We need a dialogue in the West Bank between the youth, artists, and the authorities. We have to make them aware of the importance of what we do and how we bring the atrocities of the Israeli government to light by being visible as young Palestinians. Since we’re occupied territory, dancing is a necessary outlet. It would help if we had more venues, artists, producers, and material things like records and sound systems.
Are you hopeful about the future?
Often I’m confused, because I don’t know if we’re heading the right direction or not. I just hope more people be aware of the Palestinian cause even though Palestine is a small place on the planet. In the meantime, we’ll keep on dancing and making music to cultivate a sense of freedom here so we can continue our fight for better times in Palestine.
Correction 10/29/18: A previous version of this article referred to the artists as Arab Israelis, a term they do not identify with. Noisey regrets the error.
Follow Bo Hanna on Twitter.