Israeli and Palestinian Musicians Explore Psychological Effects of Occupation on Israeli Soldiers

For years, Israeli mental-health professionals and non-governmental organizations (notably Breaking the Silence) have observed that military service in the West Bank often accustoms young Israelis to violence and drives them to dehumanize Palestinians. In fall 2012, both Israeli and Palestinian musicians released songs that explore this phenomenon. Although the musicians sing in different languages (Hebrew, Arabic and English) and genres (dramatic power-pop, comedic hip-hop), they come to similar conclusions about the psychological effects of occupation on Israeli soldiers.

Israeli pop singer Izhar Ashdot released his song “A Matter of Habit” in September 2012. The song declares that Israeli soldiers become accustomed to killing, nebulous fear and hatred, and cruelty through their military service. (The track was once banned on Israeli army radio station on the charge that it “demonizes” soldiers.) It notes that habitual emotions work to dehumanize Palestinians–and Palestinian children in particular. The song concludes with the mildly optimistic note that, like violence and hatred, humanity and love are “matter[s] of habit.”

Palestinian-Israeli rappers DAM released the English-language song “Mama I Fell in Love with a Jew” in January 2013, although they had performed it in both Arabic and English over the preceeding two years. (Several of DAM’s songs explore Palestinian children’s experience, including the 2006 track “I Don’t Have Freedom,” which features a small child singing “all the world’s children are free, why don’t I have have freedom.”) The song narrates a fictional conversation between a female Israeli soldier and a young Palestinian man in a broken elevator. The Palestinian attempts to flirt with the Israeli, who apparently has previously only interacted with Palestinians while on army duty. Humorously, the fictional Israeli responds to the civilian Palestinian’s advances as she would respond to a potential militant. He asks if she speaks Arabic and she says (in Arabic) “Freeze or I’ll shoot.” He compliments her clothes and she states “without the sniper lens, you look cute too.” In effect, the soldier is unable to shed her mental association between Palestinians and militarization, and memories of her army service infuse even a civilian interaction.

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