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Palestinian Hip-Hop Star Tamer Nafar Fights Racist Israeli Policies in New Film, “Junction 48”

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We continue our conversation about Israel by looking at a film that’s just been released titled “Junction 48.” The film centers on Kareem, an aspiring Palestinian rap artist who lives in an impoverished, mixed Palestinian-Jewish city near Tel Aviv. “Junction 48” shows how Kareem, his Palestinian girlfriend Manar and their friends use hip-hop to fight back against Israel’s policies. The role of Kareem is played by Tamer Nafar, a rap artist with the Palestinian hip-hop group DAM. To talk more about the film, we’re joined by the film’s director Udi Aloni and the lead actor, Tamer Nafar.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, we continue our conversation about Israel by looking at the film that’s just been released, titled Junction 48. The film centers on Kareem, an aspiring Palestinian rap artist who lives in an impoverished, mixed Palestinian-Jewish city near Tel Aviv called Lyd. Junction 48 shows how Kareem and his Palestinian girlfriend Manar and their friends use hip-hop to fight back against Israel’s policies. The role of Kareem is played by Tamer Nafar, a rap artist with the Palestinian hip-hop group DAM. This is the film’s trailer.

KAREEM: [played by Tamer Nafar] [translated] I understand that the fridge was new. That’s why it was repossessed.

[rapping] Hear the sirens! Burn it, George! See the sirens! Burn it, George! What did we do? Burn it, George! Better do your homework before they get you!

MANAR: [played by Samar Qupty] [translated] Wow! That’s really cool!

KAREEM: [translated] Honest?

MANAR: [translated] Incredible!

AMIR: [played by Sameh Zakout] Kareem!

UNIDENTIFIED: [translated] So you’re an Arabic-Israeli rapper?

KAREEM: [translated] I’d say so.

RPG: [played by Michael Moshonov] Welcome to the Middle East.

TV HOST: [translated] We welcome Kareem Awad.

MANAR: [translated] Shut up! He’s a real star!

KAREEM: [translated] My songs are not political. I just describe the place I live.

HUSSAM: [played by Ayed Fadel] [translated] They’re tearing down Talal’s house!

UNIDENTIFIED: [translated] We have the right to demonstrate!

MANAR: [translated] Let’s make music.

ABU ABDALLAH: [played by Tarik Copti] [translated] We are a traditional family. Manar’s performance will bring us shame. And if that happens, we’ll be forced to use other means with her.

HUSSAM: [translated] We have half a million downloads and haven’t even started! Can you imagine how this might end?

KAREEM: [translated] Israelis, cousins, families—enemies everywhere.

MANAR: [translated] That’s not funny.

UNIDENTIFIED: [translated] Shut up!

ABU ABDALLAH: [translated] Don’t make us angry.

MANAR: [translated] We have to stick together.

KAREEM: [translated] There is always this thing pulling me down.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the trailer for Junction 48. To talk more about the film, we are joined by the film’s director, Udi Aloni, Israeli-American film director, and the lead actor and musical director, Tamer Nafar. Udi is an award-winning filmmaker, the director of producer of Junction 48. His previous films include Local Angel, Forgiveness and Art/Violence, the author of What Does a Jew Want?: On Binationalism and Other Specters. Tamer Nafar is the lead actor in Junction 48, the music director of the film, also co-authored the screenplay. He is a rap artist with the Palestinian hip-hop group DAM. Tamer is a Palestinian citizen of Israel who lives in Lyd, as Israelis call it, Lod, this community that the film is based in, just near Tel Aviv airport.

Udi, talk about this film. You haven’t gotten enormously positive reviews from The New York Times in the past. They’ve now written five pieces since this won, what, the Audience Award here at Tribeca Film Festival.

UDI ALONI: The first award.

AMY GOODMAN: The first award.

UDI ALONI: The Audience Award was in Berlin.

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, the Audience Award.

UDI ALONI: We’re doing well.

AMY GOODMAN: And you just got—The New York Times did it as a critic’s pick. But this is a fascinating film, that also, I think, for the first time in a feature film, includes a housing demolition.

UDI ALONI: Yeah, we were very—Tamer and me are very close friends for 15 years. We are doing a lot of stuff together. And I think, really, we’re following Edward Said’s call to create a binational language. And not only we create art together, we’re standing on many house demolition against the bulldozers together. And we all the time try to work between art, theory and action. We’re always with our body in the place.

But the movie really has to be that. For me, when I think about house demolition, the quality has to be perfect, because we not only demolish house of Palestinian, it’s a culture demolition. Israel puts so much energy to destroy the Palestinian as a culture, that the minute Tamer referred to himself as Palestinian, not as an Israeli Arab, the minister of culture tried to destroy every show of Tamer around the country. And she stepped out when he performed in our Oscar winning.

The house demolition, for us, has to be also the relation of—from '48, it's an ongoing demolition. It’s an ongoing Nakba. It’s an ongoing disaster from the Palestinians. And the shooting it was, for me, very important the details, the details the way I experience it. And Tamer and me work really—like even the way the people speak, the way they react, the way that, the day after, they can go all on the demolition and do a song, a protest song. People here in America don’t understand how they can sing after their house was demolished, how they can smile. But it’s an ongoing fight. You cannot like let the Israelis destroy your spirit. So, the house demolition, it’s also the performance after of Tamer on it, in front of audience, said, “We will rebuild this house again.” In the Negev, there is a village that the Bedouin Palestinians built already, I think, 70 times, again and again, after Israel demolished their house. Just for you to know, in Israel, they demolished a Bedouin village now, Umm al Hiran, just in order to bring Jewish village on it, not for any other reason. They really replace Jews with the Arabs on a place that Arabs lived for 50 years already. So—

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, let’s go to a clip from the film Junction 48. In this scene, Kareem is being interviewed on an Israeli news program.

TV HOST: [translated] And now we have Kareem Avid.

KAREEM: [played by Tamer Nafar] Awad. Awad.

TV HOST: [translated] Sorry, it’s Awad. The first Israeli-Arab rapper.

MANAR: [played by Samar Qupty] [translated] What a celebrity!

KAREEM: [translated] My songs are not political. They just describe the place I come from.

AMIR: [played by Sameh Zakout] [translated] Looks like he’s been doing this all his life.

TV HOST: [translated] You come from Lod, which, ironically, is a city most Israelis don’t know. Why do you think that is?

KAREEM: [translated] Lyd is a tough place, especially on our side. I’m talking about poverty, neglected schools. I’m talking about settlers, police brutality toward us, police corruption. We live 15 kilometers from [bleep]. Sorry, I can say “[bleep],” right?

TV HOST: [translated] Funny guy.

KAREEM: [translated] I’m not trying to be funny. I’m trying to explain that you can’t know we exist.

TV HOST: [translated] You said you’re not political.

KAREEM: [translated] I’m not political. But does it make sense to you that to build a Museum of Coexistence they have to demolish my friend’s home?

TALAL: [played by Saeed Dassuki] [translated] I swear he’s the man!

KAREEM’S MOTHER: [played by Salwa Nakkara] [translated] He shouldn’t have mentioned the house. It will open the door for evil.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, let’s go to another clip from the film Junction 48.

MANAR: [played by Samar Qupty] [translated] And they want me to get married. That way, I’ll be someone else’s responsibility, not theirs. What do you think?

KAREEM: [played by Tamer Nafar] [translated] Honestly? I’m glad I don’t have a sister.

MANAR: [translated] I’m being serious now. You don’t want a problem like me?

KAREEM: [translated] Manar, we talked about this. I have no income, no job, nothing. If I make it big, we can live off the music. OK? Do you want to come and sing with us tonight at the Marley?

MANAR: [translated] In Hebrew?

KAREEM: [translated] In Hebrew, yes.

MANAR: [translated] Go perform for the Jews by yourself.

KAREEM: [translated] My love, I didn’t mean it. I was kidding. Come back.

MANAR: [translated] Kareem, my cousins are here.

KAREEM: [translated] What are you talking about? So, Jews, cousins, family—same, huh?

MANAR: [translated] Not funny! Now, for real, Kareem. I can’t have my cousins following me around.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So those are clips from the film Junction 48. So, Udi Aloni, you directed this film. Can you talk about what the character Kareem says in the first clip about his songs, responding to a question about whether his work is political? And then, this last scene between Kareem and his girlfriend Nafar [sic]?

UDI ALONI: Yeah, I really want to tell you—it’s good that you put—

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Sorry, Manar. Manar is the name of his girlfriend.

UDI ALONI: Manar, yeah. It’s very important the film is fun. We want to be all to create high art. And this is—when Tamer said, “I’m not political,” it’s kind of the wish of the oppressed to be nonpolitical. But really, the only person who can be nonpolitical is only the privileged. Only the privileged can say, “I’m doing pure art.” So, when Tamer said, “I’m not political”—and we have a great song, “Ana Mish Politi”—that it really means, “Even if I come with a bag on a bus, I become a political entity because everyone looks at me.” And—

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask Tamer to also respond to this. Tamer Nafar, who is with us—Tamer Nafar, who is with us, from afar, who is with us, it seems, much further than he is, because of this long delay when we ask him a question, but he’s in the studios in of WILL in Champaign-Urbana. When that question was put to you—you’re playing Kareem, but it is semi-autobiographical, you co-wrote the screenplay—and you said, “My songs are not political, they just describe the place I come from,” can you talk about what that means to you, Tamer?

TAMER NAFAR: First off, the screenplay was from—it was a cooperation with me and Oren Moverman, the amazing Oren Moverman. And this specific interview in the movie, when he says, “I’m not political,” it becomes a song, like Udi said, “Ana Mish Politi,” which you can get it now from iTunes from the soundtrack of Junction 48. The whole music was by me and by Itamar Ziegler.

And when he says, “I’m not political,” he really—I think he really means it, that he’s not political. They are demolishing his friend’s house, and he’s going to stand up for his friend. For him, it’s not political. But the reasons for demolishing the house are political. But for him, it’s not political. Or maybe that’s the turning point, where he needs to understand—where he starts to understand that he has some responsibility, because the place he’s living in. And you cannot not be political, because it’s not a privileged thing, like Udi said. So, being a Palestinian living inside of Israel, I cannot see you not being political. To tell somebody not to be political, that’s like tell women not to be feminists after the awful quotations that Trump has said. So, everything is political where I come from.

AMY GOODMAN: I also wanted to ask you—I wanted to ask you, Tamer, about the house that you all built for the film, that you would then demolish, and the coincidence of, once you built it, you got a message from Tel Aviv, from the Israeli government, that this house would have to be demolished? Is that right? And what was that like in your community of Lyd, what it meant to demolish this house?

TAMER NAFAR: Yes. Udi decided to build the whole house with the furniture in it, just so you can feel its—just so you can feel the cinema of it, just so you can even feel the dust in your eyes when you—when the house is demolished, just so you can feel what these people—what we go through.

I mean, I live in Lyd. Lyd is an “Israeli” city, according to the officiality of the city itself. And it’s—and it has more than—around 30,000 Palestinians, Palestinians, Arab, who pay taxes, who vote, like this whole democracy thing. And we still get our house demolished. And we are talking about more than 300 houses being demolished. And while we talk now, we have almost 5,000, 6,000 houses with warrants demolitions, that can happen in every minute, when the Israeli government decides.

So, for my people in Lyd to watch this house demolition, that was very tearful, and that was very hard to see it coming, to see it finally getting document, because normally in Israeli movies about Palestinians, they don’t show you the physical occupation. They don’t show you the house demolition. You normally, if you want to see something bad, it’s always the Arabic who’s bad, who’s extremely explosion, who’s extreme. You can show the physical of it. But if they want to be like liberal, they will talk about the occupation, but they will not show how ugly it is. And I’m very proud that we did that. I’m very proud that Udi directed it in this way, and actually you can see. And I remember, that was one of the hardest scenes for us on the set. Even the Jews on the set, who are not politically 100 percent with me or Udi, it was hard for them to see that. And it was good for me, satisfying for me, to look and to show them this is what is happening every day. So, that’s one of the most scenes that really influences me in the movie.

AMY GOODMAN: We just have 30 seconds, Udi, but this film is not only opening in New York. I mean, you’re going to be flying to join Tamer in Chicago tonight. It’s opening on the West Coast, as well.

UDI ALONI: And there is a way that—called Tugg. People can really order screening all over the country. If you go to, you can see the whole system, how it works. I just want to say, on the second part, this film really fights for women’s rights very strong inside the community. And that’s why it was so beautiful to hear Linda Sarsour saying, “Feminism who doesn’t accept me with the hijab is not feminism,” because the fight of Tamer and me, except of do great art, is to understand that fighting for women’s rights and fighting against Israeli oppression is the same fight.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you both for being with us, Udi Aloni, Israeli-American director of Junction 48; Tamer Nafar, the film’s lead actor and musical director, rap artist with the Palestinian hip-hop group DAM.

When we come back, thousands of leaked documents published by WikiLeaks describe CIA programs to hack into both Apple and Android cellphones, smart TVs, even cars. We’ll speak with the head of Electronic Frontier Foundation. Stay with us.

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