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Golan Heights’ Green Shoe band: “Our message can be found in the melody”


By Lien S. - November 11, 2013
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [Occupation] [Golan Heights]

 Photo by Black And White Design

Five guys from Majdal Shams, their instruments, lots of energy and their own unique style: that’s what Green Shoe is all about. From the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, the band unites old and new, and east and west in the covers they bring.

“We combine Elvis Presley, rock 'n roll, Balkan, old Arabic songs, Tunisian and Algerian rai music and add our own touch to it,” guitarist Alaa Alshaer explains. “We like to mix old songs with new influences and combine traditional instruments with alternative ones, because it’s good to hear familiar things in a new way.”

Green Shoe consists of Basel Mfarij on the drums, Alaa Alshaer on guitar, Basm Safadi on bass guitar, saxophonist Amr Mdah and Hosam Alshaer on the oud.  

It’s the melody that counts

Green Shoe started in October 2012. “A bar in Majdal Shams asked us if we wanted to prepare a few songs and play for the customers one night. Two hours beforehand we rehearsed a little bit and the audience ended up loving it,” Alaa recounts. 

“After the performance someone asked us the name of our band and one of the guys replied 'Green Shoe.’ Ever since we’ve been receiving invitations to play in bars all over the place: in the Golan, Ramallah, Nazareth, Haifa… There are only a few alternative bands in the region, so we get a lot of requests.”

The melody is central to Green Shoe’s performance, not the lyrics. “There’s no lead singer. The five of us sing, but we consider the vocals to be just another instrument,” Alaa relates. “We don’t focus on bringing a political message. Our message is musical and can be found in the melody. We like to play in small bars and make people dance to our groovy beats.”

Paving the road

All five musicians have a history of experience in the music scene. “When we started our rock band The Redline in Majdal Shams ten years ago, everyone thought 'what are you doing? This isn’t our traditional music.’ But today there are five or six rock bands around, so we opened up the road for others,” Alaa says. “I hope that in the future more of these kinds of cultural projects will arise. I would love to welcome more artists here to share their work.”

“In the Golan, we have no international organizations, so we have to do everything ourselves,” Alaa explains. “Growing up here has taught us to take initiative and that we can do a lot when working together, which makes us a close-knit society.” 

Israeli occupation: water and settlements

Before Israel occupied the Golan Heights in 1967, there were 137 Arab villages and 2 Arab cities in the area, housing around 130,000 people. After the Six-Day War, the Arab population had been reduced to roughly 7000, as most had been driven away to Syria. Today only five Arab villages remain—Majdal Shams, Masade, Ein Qinniye, Buq’ata and Ghajar—according to Arab Human Rights Centre Al-Marsad and Golan for Development. The villages have been under Israeli control ever since 1967, and former residents who fled to Syria are not allowed to return.

Soon after the Six-Day War, Israel started settlement construction in the Golan and confiscated large amounts of land for military use. It also allocated a large percentage of the local water resources to the settlements, while restricting the water use of the neighboring Arab communities.

Syrians under Israeli occupation

Though they share the same occupying power, the Syrian Arabs in the Golan and Palestinians experience the occupation differently. The Golan has been under Israeli civil law since 1981, whereas Palestinians are under Israeli military law. 

“Israel treats us differently than the Palestinians,” Alaa explains. “They consider the Golan a part of Israel and are trying to make us forget that we are Arabs. They want us to believe that we are better than Arabs and that we’re better off being a part of Israel than a part of Syria. Economically this may be true, but we feel connected to the Arab world, to Syria, Palestine, Lebanon. To the language and traditions. The living standards may be higher in Israel, but we don’t feel connected to the Israeli society.” 

The Golan has seen different Israeli strategies of occupation over the course of the years. “The first ten years we were under military rule. Hundreds of people were taken to jail for political resistance in the 1970s and 1980s,” Taiseer Maray, from Golan for Development accounts in an interview with The Electronic Intifada. “After the annexation of the Golan Heights in 1981, we resisted and had clashes with the Israeli military forces. They tried to suppress and break us. We resisted.”

Yet nowadays Israel has adopted an assimilation policy when it comes to the Golan. “We don’t face hard Israeli policies like in the 1970s and 1980s,” Maray continues. “They are trying to destroy our cultural heritage by forcing us to assimilate.” 

Identity 

“I’ve never been able to go to Syria, the borders are closed and Israel says they are full of landmines,” Alaa relates. “I’m supposed to be Syrian, but I don’t really feel Syrian. I feel more Palestinian, because I’ve been to the West Bank many times and I am occupied by the same power. In the past we were all united, however. Up until Syria and Lebanon became a French Mandate after World War I, present-day Jordan, Lebanon, Israel-Palestine and Syria were all called Greater Syria.” 

The Arabs in the Golan do not own passports, but laissez-passer documents. “Where our nationality is supposed to be, it simply says 'nationality undefined.’” When Israel forced Israeli citizenship on the inhabitants of the Golan Heights in 1981, the community went on strike for 19 weeks. “Most people burnt their Israeli passports. Some took the Israeli identity, but they were shunned by the community,” Alaa explains. 

“I was born under the occupation. I hope it ends tomorrow, but if we were to be a part of Syria again, we will face totally different problems,” Alaa concludes. “Hopefully one day Syria will be a good place to live again and we’ll be one country. I’d love to see a world without wars, borders, racism and hate, where people can be united and live in peace.”

 

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