By Abu Rahss
Two months ago I traveled to Palestine to visit the country, record songs, and film music videos along with three artists who are also fellow members of the Washington D.C.-based music collective, FHTMG (Jefe, PacMan Slim, and Nine Five).
In 2014 FHTMG released the first rap music video filmed in North Korea, and we have since released other music videos that were filmed in Cuba, Mexico, Lebanon, and Mongolia, among other locations.
We also received a shout out from the Washington Post when we included “Free Gaza” graffiti in our 2015 music video for the song “Trap Out The Starbucks.” As a Palestinian-American (my father immigrated to the U.S. from Palestine when he was a child, and my mother is German) I have been eager to visit Palestine and record some music videos there for a long time. So I was thrilled to finally plan a trip with some friends and fellow artists in Dec. 2016. We spent nine nights in the West Bank.
On Tuesday Jefe and I released “Search My Bag,” the first of two music videos we filmed in Palestine (the second video features PacMan Slim).
Our first night in Palestine Jefe wrote the song after he was interrogated for nearly an hour at Israel’s Ben-Gurion airport in Tel Aviv. Jefe was traveling alone and his flight landed later than ours. He is an American citizen, born and raised in Washington D.C., and he previously worked on Wall Street. Although, this did not stop the authorities at Ben-Gurion from profiling him and singling him out for an interrogation (I presume due to the fact that he is a young Latino man who was traveling alone).
I won’t speak for his experience, but he was treated in a way that made him feel very unwelcome in Israel, which shouldn’t be how American citizens are treated by our so-called best friend and closest ally.
PacMan and I were also pulled into the side waiting area at Ben-Gurion, which all Arabs (and other “suspicious” types) traveling through that airport know about. We were also held for about an hour, and I was asked several questions (but not taken to a back room like Jefe). However, compared to the four other times I’ve entered Palestine/Israel, it was my easiest experience.
After finally making it through security, we found an Israeli taxi driver who said he could take us to the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem for around $100 (400 NIS). I had forgotten that Israelis generally never enter the Palestinian territories, so I just took him at his word that he could get us there. As we got closer to Bethlehem, he started to get lost and I had to call a cousin who speaks Hebrew to guide him to the checkpoint into Bethlehem (the Palestinian territories are kind of like outer space for Israelis even though it’s just a few minutes to drive). The driver then dropped us off at the checkpoint and asked for the 400 NIS.
We had made very clear that we were going to the Church of Nativity before we entered the taxi so we felt cheated being dropped at the checkpoint, made to lug our baggage through a lengthy security process. We told him we would pay $93 (350 NIS). He quickly became irate and went over to a soldier manning the checkpoint and claimed we were trying to skip out on our taxi fare. The soldiers soon called the head of security at the checkpoint who then escorted all of us inside of the checkpoint. After about 30 minutes of back and forth, we agreed to pay the full amount. The officers noted the incident, and then let us all go.
We finally made it to Bethlehem and were hanging out at a friend’s house listening to music when Jefe came up with the chorus for the song. Over the next nine days I wrote my verses, we finalized the song, and we filmed the video during our last night. It was the seventh music video we filmed after a three-week trip that included stops in Istanbul, London, and Frankfurt.
During this trip, we also visited Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Qalqilya, where we visited the SkateQilya skate ramp, and skateboarded with local skaters. I was a camp counselor at the SkateQilya this past summer. They have an amazing program (and I recommend everyone check it out/get involved).
PacMan and I wrote a song and filmed a video for it while in Qalqilya and that one will be released in the coming weeks or months.
Back at Ben-Gurion on the way out we all got selected for the standard additional screening. Incidentally, we were standing directly behind the Archbishop of Jerusalem Atallah Hanna in the security line and it was Larry David-esque to watch him go through the metal detector about ten times as he slowly stripped down out of his full religious garb)—but it was smooth, all things considered.
Jefe, PacMan, Nine Five and I are all back home in Washington D.C., and in the three days since we released “Search My Bag,” we have already heard from several people who have had similar experiences (and far worse) at Ben-Gurion and who really love the song and video, which makes all of the trouble of crossing the world to film a music video under cold rain worth it.
– Abu Rahss is a rapper, videographer, and co-founder of the music collective FHTMG. He currently resides in Washington D.C. and works as an analyst at an investment firm. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. (This article was first published in Mondoweiss.)