Haifa in a Tesla – the use of media to reassert forgotten identities

By Hana El Hilaly

While it is common for marginalized and oppressed communities to be silenced and ignored in the public sphere, this is even more prevalent when they lack a sovereign state to represent them within the international society. This has been the case for Palestinians for decades. Following 1948, their existence as a collective group has been refuted, their claim to their land seen as trivial, and their voices ignored. Many politicians, such as Golda Meir, have denied their existence and have seen their ties to their land before the events of 1948 simply as a response to Jewish sovereignty rather than a genuine tie to the ground. 

The history of Palestine is a long and complex one, carried in books, artefacts and, perhaps most importantly, people’s memories. There is evidence of long-standing institutions, traditions and regional acknowledgement of Palestine from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Evidence can be seen in the newspaper Falastin. Founded in 1911 in Jaffa, East Jerusalem, it provided weekly publications about current affairs, arts and music in Palestine. However, even such evidence has been ignored due to the dominance of western media and lack of legitimacy for non-western academia, and the Palestinian Identity has been effectively falsified. Recently, however, many Palestinian diaspora people have begun to combat this narrative by instilling themselves in western media and advocating for their people. 

The good that comes from this newfound activism is twofold: first, it implants a voice for Palestinians in the West, thereby helping to remove the stigma from them. A key figure in this regard this is a singer and rapper who has recently gained popularity on the social media platform TikTok, Marwan Abdel-Hamid, or Saint Levant. Working under the stage name Saint Levant, Abdel-Hamid is a Palestinian/French/Algerian/Serbian artist who prides himself on rapping in several languages and representing North Africans, Levantines and Arabs alike. 

Most recently, his songs Very Few Friends and I Guess featuring Playyard have been ‘trending’ on the dancing app, leading to a surge of popularity and allowing him to perform globally, such as most recently performing at the Quoz arts festival in Dubai. While his most famous songs are just pop-music about love and lust, he has other songs, such as Haifa in a Tesla, that address the Palestinian cause. 

Not dissimilar to his other music, Haifa in a Tesla is an upbeat song with a repeating catchy chorus. Following Levant, as he drives into the city of Haifa in East Jerusalem in a Tesla with figures such as Edward Said, the acclaimed Palestinian postcolonial scholar and Bella Hadid, the famous Palestinian model and activist. This imagery symbolizes Levant reclaiming his homeland, by cruising into the city with two powerful figures in a highly exclusive car, he as a representative of the Palestinian people is more powerful than the guards stopping him at check points. The juxtaposition between the heavily contextual lyrics and the upbeat music allows for the song to still be relevant and therefore gain popularity. A particular part of the song that I think alludes to the need to restore justice against the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes is this verse;

“Jacub was saying, If I don’t steal it, someone else will

But you still won’t take him for his word

And I’m tired of watching all the blood spill.”

This lyric refers to a video of an Israeli-American settler justifying his unlawful acquisition of a Palestinian home by saying that someone will eventually do it. This, coupled with Abdel-Hamid’s emotions on the violent nature of the occupation of Palestine, is a form of resistance against the injustice in his home country. This insertion into a popular song starts a more extended conversation about the Palestinian cause and allows more people to educate themselves on the issue. 

This has also been seen within the film industry and, most recently, in the creation of the film Farha (Darin. J Salam, 2021, Toronto). Farha, the Arabic word for happiness, is a historical drama showing the events of Al-Nakba through the eyes of a 14-year-old girl. Salam shows the trauma and violence of the 1948 “catastrophe” on a much smaller and more intimate scale by following the young girls’ experience. Farha is currently streaming on Netflix and is the Jordanian submission for the best foreign film award at the 95th Academy Awards. This film’s release to a large and, more importantly, western audience allows for the resurrection of the Palestinian Identity before 1948 to be publicized and shared rather than being illegitimated. Moreover, images and a human connection enables the audience to empathize and reduce the othering of the Palestinian people. 

Clearly, the use of film and music has allowed the silenced to gain back their voices and speak for their people. However, the effectiveness of this has been debated. Farha has still received backlash from many who believe the “Free Palestine” movement to be an act of antisemitism. We must also ask ourselves how much power music truly has in creating political and social reform. While these artists have successfully reinstated the Palestinian Identity, it is unclear if this will be able to impact the way Palestinians are perceived directly. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own, and may not reflect the opinions of The St Andrews Economist.

Image source: Middle East Eye – Netflix’s Farha: Palestinians bemused by Israeli anger over Nakba film

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