Background on the Arab-Israeli Conflict

To understand the music examples discussed in this portion of the blog, one must have some background on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Entire books have been written on just one even within this conflict so covering it all will not be possible. For the purpose of space, only major events and those connected with the artist’s lyrics will be discussed.

The small patch of land in the Middle-East has significance to the three major monotheistic religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. As such, this has been a hotly contested area for more than two millennium. The last seventy years have been no different.

In May of 1916, the British and French divided up the Levant[1] into various zones that would be controlled by the each colonizers in different parts of the region. Palestine was controlled by British, but the territory west of the Jordan River, including Jerusalem would be under international administration. Not a year later, the Balfour Declaration stated that there should be established a Jewish homeland in the area of Palestine.[2]

At this time, hundreds of thousands of native Arabs were living in communities throughout the land of Palestine. As anti-Semitism grew throughout Europe in the beginning of the 20th century, many Jews immigrated to Palestine. With a growing Jewish community and an overall British control, there was a growing resentment among the Arab population.[3]There was a major Arab Rebellion from 1936-1939, the first major action taken against the British since colonization. Finally in 1947, a UN Resolution partitioned the land of Palestine, granting a Jewish homeland within its borders.[4] On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the new state of Israel. The next day, Arab armies from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt invaded in what began the War of 1948. To the Israeli’s, this war is known as the War of Independence. To Palestinians this is known as Nakba, or The Catastrophe. Just the difference in names tells a great deal about the narrative of the two sides.

To Israeli citizens, it was the War of Independence because it was the war where the Jewish homeland “defended its right to exist” after gaining independence.[5] To Palestinians, this event is known as Nakba because of the loss of life and land. According to the work of Ian Bickerton and Carla Klausner, the war displaced around 900,000 Palestinians in what is one of the largest and longest refugee crises in recent history.[6] The reason why so many Palestinians were uprooted is contested. Israeli’s say Arab army’s told Palestinians to move out until after the war, at which point they would be able to return but never did. Palestinians say Israeli soldiers forced them out of their homes and land. It seems that it may have been a little bit of both.[7] In any case, this eventually led to millions of Palestinians over many generations spread out throughout the world like in the case of Shadia Mansour, one of the artists discussed later.[8]

In the next few decades, Israel fought major wars in 1956, 1967 and 1973. After that, wars were on a smaller scale, relatively speaking. Peace agreements were made with Egypt as well as Jordan, and many failed peace agreements were attempted with the Palestinians.

Today, Israel is made up of a population that is roughly 80% Jewish and 20% Arab Christian and Muslim. Within the Jewish population, there is a majority that are Ashkenazi, or Jews from Eastern Europe. The Jewish minority is known as Sephardi. These are Jews from North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula. The Sephardi community has always been marginalized. In what can only be described as racist stereotypes, the darker-skinned Sephardi is thought of as being of a lower class and less hygienic. White Eastern European Jews have always been a majority in Israel and this has created tensions within the Jewish community there.

In the following posts, I will look at the politics of the Arab-Israeli conflict through three musical artists. The first, Hadag Nachash, represents a new age in Israeli Hip-Hop. Next I will look at Israeli musician Idan Raichel and his work with minority groups within Israel. Finally, turning to the Palestinian narrative, I will examine the work of Shadia Mansour, the “First Lady of Arab Hip-Hop” and her fight for Palestinian and women’s rights within her community.


[1] The Levant refers to the area that is made up of modern day Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Territories.
[2] Bickerton, Ian J., and Carla L. Klausner. A History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2010. Print.
[3] Ibid. 49
[4] Ibid. 85
[5] Ibid. 97
[6] Ibid. 102
[7] Ibid.
[8] See section on Palestinian music.