My Voice Is My Weapon: Music, Nationalism, and the Poetics of Palestinian Resistance [NOOK Book]


In My Voice Is My Weapon, David A. McDonald rethinks the conventional history of the Palestinian crisis through an ethnographic analysis of music and musicians, protest songs, and popular culture. Charting a historical narrative that stretches from the late-Ottoman period through the end of the second Palestinian intifada, McDonald examines the shifting politics of music in its capacity to both reflect and shape fundamental aspects of national identity. Drawing case studies from Palestinian communities in Israel,...
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My Voice Is My Weapon: Music, Nationalism, and the Poetics of Palestinian Resistance

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In My Voice Is My Weapon, David A. McDonald rethinks the conventional history of the Palestinian crisis through an ethnographic analysis of music and musicians, protest songs, and popular culture. Charting a historical narrative that stretches from the late-Ottoman period through the end of the second Palestinian intifada, McDonald examines the shifting politics of music in its capacity to both reflect and shape fundamental aspects of national identity. Drawing case studies from Palestinian communities in Israel, in exile, and under occupation, McDonald grapples with the theoretical and methodological challenges of tracing "resistance" in the popular imagination, attempting to reveal the nuanced ways in which Palestinians have confronted and opposed the traumas of foreign occupation. The first of its kind, this book offers an in-depth ethnomusicological analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, contributing a performative perspective to the larger scholarly conversation about one of the world's most contested humanitarian issues.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"David A. McDonald has written a singular, ambitious, and much-needed book that explores a very important dimension of the Palestinian-Israeli question. He provides an invaluable historical overview of Palestinian resistance music since the 1930s and an ethnography of music and musicians during the second intifada and its aftermath."—Ted Swedenburg, coeditor of Palestine, Israel, and the Politics of Popular Culture

"This book is highly original, well researched, and extremely engaging. Through strong social analysis and sharp historical insights, David A. McDonald connects music, poetry, performance, and political life among the Palestinian people."—Virginia Danielson, author of The Voice of Egypt: Umm Kulthūm, Arabic Song, and Egyptian Society in the Twentieth Century

Ethnomusicology Forum - Rayya S. El Zein

“The volume, and the fieldwork from which it is written… do much to demystify Palestinian politics and political expression for western readers; for this reason among the other strengths of the work,My Voice is My Weapon will prove a valuable tool for students, educators and the general public in years to come.”

“There are at least two and possibly three different books co-existing within David McDonald’s comprehensive and impressively researched study of music in Palestinian society and its role in shaping national identity within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict . . . a compelling and monumental study.”
Middle-East Journal - KD

"By including Palestinians living in the Palestinian Territories, in Israel, and in exile as well as a plethora of musical genres, McDonald shows the diversity of history, experience, and meaning of Palestinian identity."
Journal of Popular Music Studies - Sylvia A. Alajaji

“David A. McDonald’s study of Palestinian music is . . . an acute, nuanced account of Palestinian history and identity as it is sung, danced, and performed by Palestinians. What emerges is neither a simple counter-narrative nor an essentialized, sugarcoated tale of Palestinian resistance and resilience. Instead, it is an incisive and thoughtful examination of a multilayered narrative as it has emerged over time and been variously interpreted and experienced by Palestinians in Israel, the occupied territories, and the diaspora. McDonald’s work is significant if simply for the fact that it is the first English-language monograph to substantially engage with Palestinian music as it relates to the shaping and formation of Palestinian identity.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822378280
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 10/16/2013
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 360
  • File size: 5 MB

Meet the Author

David A. McDonald is Assistant Professor of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University, Bloomington.

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Read an Excerpt


Music, Nationalism, and the Poetics of Palestinian Resistance

By David A. McDonald

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2013 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-5479-6


Nationalism, Belonging, and the Performativity of Resistance

The Activist: Performing the Nation in Exile

"Just watch. If I sing loud enough and strong enough, we can create Palestine in the music" (idha sawti qawi, rah man'amal filastin bi-1 -musiqa), Kamal Khalil tells me before a performance commemorating Palestinian Land Day in the summer of 2004. Within minutes hundreds of shabab (youth) have abandoned their chairs to join one of six different dabke lines (Palestinian indigenous line dance) circling the stage. Some of the more adventurous young women form their own dabke line, stage left, distanced from the gaze of the young men. Older refined businessmen, lawyers, and other notables, seated conspicuously in the front row's VIP section, relinquish their formal public station and openly sing along, waving their arms wildly over their heads. Young families parade their small children through the crowd atop their shoulders waving signs of victory, wearing the Palestinian flag or kufiya (white-and-black checkered headscarf) around their necks. Noticing the crowd's reaction to his first set of resistance songs, Kamal looks over at me standing backstage, dutifully videotaping the performance, and smiles. His dark eyes suddenly soften. Wrinkles stretch across his tanned cheeks. With pride his glance reads, "See? I told you so ..."

I acknowledge his gesture, shaking my head back and forth in disbelief at the incredible transformation taking place before my very eyes. The once subdued, even lethargic, audience had awoken within a matter of moments into a participatory expression of Palestinian nationalism. Where once strangers sat, politely listening to speeches given by various community leaders, in song and dance, a community of national intimates has emerged. Before long I am pulled from my ethnographer's perch to join one of several dabke lines weaving through the crowd. While dancing, several businessmen wrap their kufiyat around my neck in a sign of friendship and indoctrination into the performance environment. Later, I politely and diplomatically excuse myself from the dabke to nervously check my recording equipment backstage. Making sure that the sound levels, microphones, and batteries are all working properly, I notice a group of boisterous shabab approaching. I brace myself for the usual barrage of questions and accusations customarily levied at foreigners circulating within politically charged venues such as this, but before I am able to speak, one of the teens grabs me by the shoulders and quickly bends forward to kiss the pin of a Palestinian flag on my lapel. Sharrafna, ya habibi (honored to meet you), he screams in my ear over the raucous music and merriment.

The Archivist: "Palestine will always remain under our stamping feet"

Sitting in the office of the eighty-three-year-old librarian, scholar, and folklorist 'Abd al-Aziz Abu Hadba (Abu Hani) at the In'ash al-Usra Society in the West Bank village of al-Bireh, I am initially asked to fill out a questionnaire describing myself and the nature of my research. As I leaf through Abu Hani's large binder of similar questionnaires filled out by streams of foreign researchers who have passed through his office over the last thirty years, I come to realize the long legacy of ethnographic research that has been carried out in the West Bank. Abu Hani sits behind his desk, carefully, silently watching my expression as I read through the various entries. The silence is unsettling. Some of the names are easily recognizable, scholars whose work has formed the foundation of my understanding of Palestinian culture and practice. Most, however, are not. Page after page flashes before me, fascinating research projects, each seeking the same answers as myself. Looking over the stacks of entries, it pains me to realize that my research is not as groundbreaking or as innovative as I once imagined. I am but one of a long list of (perhaps idealistic and naïve) researchers who has sought out Abu Hani's advice, believing their work might in some way contribute to the end of the occupation. After what seemed an eternity, Abu Hani realizes his exercise in humility has achieved its intended goal, and his distant exterior suddenly thaws. The uncomfortable silence that has gripped the room is then broken. His gleaming blue eyes sparkle against the backdrop of his thinning white hair and wrinkled cheeks. A youthful enthusiasm quickly emerges from his voice as he smiles and begins telling me the story of his birth village (depopulated and destroyed in 1948) and of his ensuing quest to preserve its memory.

Among researchers of Palestinian culture, folklore, and history, Abu Hani is a national treasure. Over the years his many books, articles, and service to the In?ash al-Usra Society have provided the foundation for Palestinian cultural and folkloric studies. Waiting weeks to sit and talk with him about my research, I anxiously anticipated his thoughts and ideas. Despite his eighty-three years, Abu Hani's face lights up when I explain my interest in studying Palestinian history, nationalism, and resistance from the perspective of music. With the dexterity of a man half his age he quickly rises from his chair and begins pulling books from the surrounding shelves. After a modest stack has accumulated on the front corner of his desk, he returns to his chair and begins talking about the cultural significance of Palestinian music and dance. The discussion soon turns to stories of our favorite poets, singers, and songs. We sing bits and pieces of Palestinian folklore. It is obvious Abu Hani takes great pleasure in testing my abilities to decipher lyric, mode, and rhythm in the great canon of Palestinian indigenous music ('ala dal'una, al-'ataba, al-jafra, ya zarif al-tul, and so on).

About an hour into our discussion Abu Hani becomes quite serious. "You know, Da'ud [David], I have been asking every researcher who comes through this office the same question for years. And I am curious if you can tell me what the answer is." Abu Hani then stands up behind his desk and begins to stomp his feet on the ground repeatedly. "Do you know what this means when we [Palestinians] stamp our feet in the dabke?" he asks, cautiously balancing on one foot. "Do you know what the dabke means? Why we do it? Why we love it so much?"

Initially I am caught off guard by such a question, and even more worried that I will have to catch Abu Hani if he should fall. So I quickly answer, "No, I am not sure what the dabke means." In my research I had read widely on the dabke and had spoken with and learned from many dancers about the history, steps, and contexts of dabke performances. But I was a bit taken aback by Abu Hani's direct query, unsure of what exactly he was looking for, and unwilling to risk offering a wrong answer.

We stomp our feet in the dabke to show the world that this is our land [Baladna] [stomping loudly on the floor], that people and villages can be killed and erased [stomping again] ..., but our heritage [turathna] is something that they can't reach because it is here [motioning to his heart]. They have stolen our land [stomp], forced us out of our homes [stomp], but our culture is something they cannot steal. When we stamp our feet we are saying that no matter how far we have been scattered, Palestine will always remain under our stamping feet [filastin rah bizal taht aqdamna]. (emphasis added)

The Artist: "Tupac is a martyr for Palestine"

"You see ... people don't understand that Tupac should be considered [a] shahid [a martyr for Palestinian liberation]," Tamer Nafar explains to me backstage before a rap concert in Ramallah in the summer of 2005. "His experiences are our experiences. His struggles with the police are our struggles with the police. His ghetto is my ghetto. If you listen all he talks about is the ghetto, revolution, politics. And he died because he was willing to speak out for his beliefs.... That makes him [a] shahid, and that makes him Palestinian."

As Tamer carefully explains his point, crowds of exuberant teens crowd into Ramallah's Kassaba Theatre. With a low rumble the sound of the sold-out crowd reverberates through the green room walls, giving the cramped space an energy of anticipation. Backstage local media beg the group to pose for their cameras. The young rappers are only too happy to oblige, posturing with one another, pointing into the cameras with rehearsed hand gestures and facial expressions. Their oversized athletic shorts, T-shirts, and designer high-top sneakers add to the novelty. One reporter asks, 'ala fikra, shu hadha al-rab? (by the way, what is this rap music?). Although many in the crowd were unfamiliar with hip-hop—its sounds, rhythms, dances, and practices—DAM's much-awaited performance in Ramallah spoke volumes about the potential impact of rap on Palestinian youth culture and politics. In a city overwrought with violence, besieged by occupation, and entrenched in a pervasive culture of steadfastness, hip-hop opens the door to new sounds and new ways of conceptualizing contemporary struggles. Tupac's subaltern posture of empowered resistance against racism and dispossession resonates with these young Palestinian rappers to the extent that Tupac might assume the politicized identity of a Palestinian shahid: a martyr for the cause of self-determination. Tupac, according to such criteria, is Palestinian. His angry yet poignant counterhegemonic rhetoric indexes a common struggle of ethnic engagement and minority rights. This young cadre of Palestinian Israeli rappers, making a name for themselves as Palestine's first rap group, freely draws from the identity construct of the empowered subaltern (as manifested in the legacy of Tupac Shakur) in fashioning their own repertory of hiphop against the occupation and the ethnic marginalization of Palestinian citizens of Israel.

* * *

EACH OF THE ABOVE vignettes narrates strikingly different conceptions of time, space, nation, and resistance articulated through performative processes of music and dance. Moreover each presents the aesthetic and ideational dispositions of three very different Palestinian communities. The intifada singer and political activist Kamal Khalil has spent a lifetime struggling for the right to return to his ancestral village in the West Bank. Growing up on the socially dispossessed periphery of the Jordanian nationscape, Kamal developed a profound sense of exilic nationalism realized in his performances of Palestinian protest songs. Such songs brought forth in the minds of his audience alternative aesthetic realities in which the Palestinian nation could be celebrated, mourned, or otherwise performed from within foreign state regimes. Through such performances participants were able to performatively sing and dance the nation into existence, to assert agency over their collective experiences, and to maintain the ideational links which constitute the nation in exile. More importantly for Kamal such songs offered opportunities to experience and articulate the Palestinian resistance from afar: to feel Palestinian. His performances opened spaces for feeling as if he were experiencing, perhaps even participating in, the struggle for self-determination, creating a vital connection, a belonging, to the nation in exile.

The elder Abu Hani, by contrast, took a slightly different approach. For him Palestine was defined and circumscribed by a shared cultural history of indigenous practices and dispositions. Manifest in the line dance, al-dabke, Palestinian lifeways constituted the ideational and performative links between the self and the nation. Throughout Abu Hani's prolific career he has sought to study and preserve the authentic Palestinian folklore against forced exile and cultural erasure. In collecting the stories, poems, proverbs, folk songs, and dances of his pre-1948 generation, Abu Hani has attempted to safeguard and revive al-watan al-asil (the pure nation), an image of Palestine uncontaminated by time, colonialism, and foreign influence. The idyllic Palestine articulated here is encapsulated in the expressive practices (steps, gestures, poetry, food, dress, and melodies) of a lost generation of ancestors. To preserve the dabke is to preserve the nation. Indeed, to dance the dabke is to dance the nation in its purest form. In the face of Israeli encroachment and the erasure of Palestinian space, time, and presence, the preservation of indigenous practices such as the dabke forcefully resists dispossession. Folklore is resistance. Detached from its "precious soil," Palestinian identity, history, and nation must be kept alive, carried, preserved, and performed. It must endure, made manifest in the cultural practices and dispositions of its people, "in our hearts" and in "the ground beneath our stamping feet."

For rapper Tamer Nafar and his dam cohorts, Palestinian identity pivots on an axis of shared experiences of racism and political dispossession. To be Palestinian, in this sense, means to be engaged in the struggle for racial and ethnic equality. The perceived iconicity between Tupac Shakur's repertory of politically charged rap and the Palestinian struggle for self-determination positions the American rapper within the national imaginary. For this reason Tupac may be considered a shahid, memorialized as a fallen hero for Palestinian liberation. In contrast to Kamal Khalil and Abu Hani, Tamer Nafar does not conceptualize Palestine based solely on shared indigenous practices or exilic nationalism. Rather he defines Palestine by the terrain of subaltern resistance to racialized oppression and state injustice. A Palestinian is one who resists such oppression, regardless of geography, history, or culture.

To be sure, each of these three artist-activist-archivists recognized the importance of performance in the articulation of Palestinian identity. They understood that performance inscribes within the minds of participants powerful indices of national identity through shared experience and history. And while each believed music and musical performance to be powerful modes of communicating nationalist sentiment, they each, in effect, defined the nation in radically different terms. In activism Kamal Khalil defined the nation in shared experiences of forced exile and the struggle for return. In folklore Abu Hani defined the nation through the preservation of seemingly authentic Palestinian lifeways and practices. And in hip-hop Tamer Nafar explored the Palestinian condition via transnational discourses of youth culture and racial injustice.

Each of the examples further points toward three very different Palestinian communities: in exile (Jordan), under occupation (West Bank), and in '48 (Israel). Moving fluidly between these three sociocultural and geographic frames, this book examines the dynamics of history, nationalism, and resistance as realized through music performance. Central to this endeavor is the assertion that each of the above processes is best understood through the prism of context and social action, as performances of aesthetics and ideation. In this book I explore how Palestinians, through music performance, have fashioned and disseminated markers of a distinct Palestinian identity and then trace how this identity has been historically articulated through various local, national, and transnational contexts. In so doing, my analysis engages discourses of power, hegemony, and resistance and argues for the utility of music performance in resolving central questions of individual subjectivity, agency, and collective identity formation.


At the very heart of these vignettes, these performances, is a profound desire for belonging. Indeed belonging remains a foundational concern to ethnomusicology given its centrality to issues of social differentiation and reproduction. In this project I am principally concerned with the various ways discourses, technologies, and other power/knowledge networks serve to produce the relationships within which people and objects interact. Further I am interested in exploring the ways power discourses produce bodies, subjectivities, and identities. But beyond Foucauldian concerns with what makes us who we are amidst conflicting and competing power relations, there remains an essential discussion to be had at the level of affect. It is a primary concern of this book to investigate both the lines of allegiance and fracture that determine the order of things as well as the affective moves individuals make to satisfy the longing for social solidarity and synchrony. The perpetual drive to be, and to belong, is a primary concern of identity politics, exilic nationalism, political resistance, and humanist advocacy. Put another way, all these performances have at their core the insatiable drive to belong, to be at peace with oneself among others, to transcend the well-documented Palestinian condition of liminality and dispossession, and to escape perpetual movement, fear, and loss.

Excerpted from MY VOICE IS MY WEAPON by David A. McDonald. Copyright © 2013 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Illustrations viii

Note on Transliterations xi

Note on Accessing Performance Videos xiii

Acknowledgments xvii

Introduction 1

1. Nationalism, Belonging, and the Performativity of Resistance 17

2. Poets, Singers, and Songs: Voices in the Resistance Movement (1917–1967) 34

3. Al-Naksa and the Emergence of Political Song (1967–1987) 78

4. The First Intifada and the Generation of Stones (1987–2000) 116

5. Revivals and New Arrivals: The al-Aqsa Intifada (2000–2010) 144

6. "My Songs Can Reach the Whole Nation": Baladna and Protest Song in Jordan 163

7. Imprisonment and Exile: Negotiating Power and Resistance in Palestinian Protest Song 199

8. New Directions and New Modalities: Palestinian Hip-Hop in Israel 231

9. "Carrying Words Like Weapons": DAM Brings Hip-Hop to the West Bank 262

Epilogue 283

Appendix: Song Lyric Transliterations 287

Notes 305

Bibliography 321

Index 329
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