Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Shu’fat Hip Hop, an Alternative to Violence

By Martin Leeper - April 05, 2018
Section: [Main News] [Culture] [Features]
Tags: [culture] [Shuafat refugee camp] [Jerusalem]

Shu’fat refugee camp is one of the most densely populated places in Israel or Palestine. However, it is not technically part of either territory. 

Shu’fat camp is the only refugee camp within the city limits of Jerusalem. The land was allocated for the camp in 1965 by the Jordanian government for already displaced refugees squatting in Jerusalem’s Old City. Shu’fat residence say they are two-time refugees.
From the West Bank it is a windy, convoluted trip to get to Shu’fat camp. It does not, however, take you through an Israeli checkpoint as it does to get to any other part of East Jerusalem. Shu’fat, like much of the region, is built within a steep hill. To the north is Pisgat Ze’ev and to the south is French Hill, both exclusive, illegal Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem. To Shu’fat’s west, between it and the greater city of Jerusalem, is the wall.
For 'security’, Israel built the wall between the settlements, Jerusalem and Shu’fat. This leaves the camp’s population in the unique position of being both residents of Jerusalem, recipients of health care and social services from Israel, and yet residing on the Palestine side.
They are, in effect, simultaneously at the heart of the conflict and yet isolated, left nearly entirely on their own. Without jurisdiction, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has no role in Shu’fat’s governance. Jerusalem municipality technically oversees Shu’fat but its position on the other side of the wall gives them little incentive to maintain order. This deaf-ear approach together with a rapid increase in population density as the camp cannot expand outside its original borders or beyond the wall, has led to a steep increase in crime, drugs and constant clashes with Israeli Defense Forces.
These conditions bare a striking resemblance to the red-lined districts of New York City in the 1970s and 80s. This was a time when African American populations were cornered into distinct ghettos and left with little means for either upward mobility or control over their environment. Out of this powerlessness came a cultural movement from the margins that has since spread across the world. It was in this environment where Hip Hop was born.  
Hmouda Hmoud was born and raised in Shu’fat. As a child he played and fought on the streets of the camp. As an adolescent he found refuge in the Palestinian Child Center. Not too long after, he found hip hop - Ice Cube, specifically. By 15, he was writing his own songs.
The recording Studio in the Palestinian Child Center in Shu’fat camp, Jerusalem. Source: Henry James. 
Now Hmoud is 22-years-old and in his last year as a audio engineer major at Sync College in Bethlehem. With the help of the center’s director he built a professional studio in the Palestinian Child Center.  He has collaborated with Palestinian groups such as Project Chaos and G-Town, and he has performed his music as far away as Germany.
“I found the right way for me to translate my pain,” Hmoud said. “The music.”
In 2015, however, he found a new passion. Apart from making his own music, Hmoud has begun teaching a dedicated group of teens, ages 12 to 16, from the center.
It started when the kids would come up to Hmoud signing his songs to him in the streets. In time he saw the kids enthusiasm and dedication and asked them if they would like to learn how to make music. For the first six months there were no beats and no recordings, he said he wanted to start from the beginning, “I started like a school, let’s talk about history.”
Now, they write full songs as group. They start first with a song subject, and then Hmoud assigns the group a reading. “I want them to learn and understand,” he said. “I’m not going to write it for them.”
The group is part of Hmoud’s new endeavor, the Swa Swa Sound System, an offshoot of a the Swa Swa collaborative project. Swa Swa means together together. “My grandma used to say, 'go play with the kids, swa swa,’” Hmoud said. It is part of a greater project with the Civil Peace Service to defragment Palestine, bring organizations and people from Nablus, to Bethlehem to Shu’fat together in collaboration.
Ahmad Halaob is an original member of the group and at 16-years-old, he is also one of the oldest. Halaob sat attentively in the corner of the studio, smiling whenever the group’s music was played as the interview with Palestine Monitor continued. He was quiet but said he was grateful for the music and the creative outlet. Without it, he isn’t sure where he would be. “I would be in streets,” he said. “Maybe I would have killed someone, maybe I would be in jail.”
Two young students Ahmed Halaob and a friend, that are recording with Hmouda Hmoud in the Studio in the Palestinian Child Center. The two young students are also in the PCC. Source: Henry James. 
Even within such a violent and oppressive environment, Hmoud tries to spread a positive message with his music. “I’m not against anyone, I never have been,” he said. “In the end, we are all human.”
“Peace, love, have fun - that’s it,” Hmoud said. “F*** the wars, F*** the countries, F*** everything, we should have fun, we should live our lives… We should make music.”
As for Shu’fat, Hmoud wouldn’t have had it any other way. Between his family, his friends, center and the studio, he can’t imagine leaving the refugee camp he was born in, “There is something special about his place, there is something magical. I can feel it.”
Lead Photo: Hmouda Hmoud working on his laptop in his Studio in the Palestinian Child Center in Shu’fat Camp, Jerusalem. Source: Henry James.  

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