Faced with daily racism and in the most mundane of situations, such as attempting admission to Israeli-run clubs, the back then teenager Khleif, has often been denied entry for not possessing an Israeli army ID when he was asked to present it at the door —which Palestinians usually do not possess because they rarely serve in the Israeli army— a method that was used to filter Palestinians out. “At one point, we said fuck it, and we organized our own parties,” Khleif recollects. This masked racism was the fire starter for his venture into a diverse range of cultural activities that he now runs and partakes in. He threw the first party 10 years ago, he hired a venue and played music without focusing on one genre. The party drew only 50 people at first, but it was enough to spread the word, and attract more people to attend subsequent parties. “People started getting to know each other and even better they had a stage now, so they also started playing music. Bands formed on the dance floor and the scene started to grow,” he recounted.
It wasn’t long after until some of his friends also started organizing their own parties, they quickly recognized the dire demand for Palestinian youth to gather and to rediscover their roots and identity. A few years later, in 2010, Khleif and his partner Ayed Fadel, who together founded a collective going under the name Jazar Crew, opened their own independent venue in Haifa calling it “Kabareet” which mean matches in Arabic. This was not only a place to throw parties and host live music acts, Kabreet also became a sanctuary for Palestinian artists and thinkers to meet, share ideas and express their thoughts on common issues under the rhythm of music. “For my people, there was no space to meet, to communicate or to be creative. To me, music is that place, where we can meet, dance and feel safe within it. It brings my people together, it helps build bridges, free our mind and establish our own mode of communication,” he explained. This meeting of minds helped to establish a unified initiative to fight for their language and culture to be visible and their voices to be heard. Feeling deprived they dug into their heritage of rich Arabic culture, rediscovering, giving it modern new forms and applying it across different mediums. T-shirts decorated with Arabic words and letters, magazines published in Arabic and a myriad of indie bands popped up singing in Arabic. This new creative wave proved to be influential as it consequently brought about an independent Arabic theatre into existence.
Khleif understood, his activities had to cover all aspects of the awakening of Palestinian culture. He looked into areas where it was failing and tried to create a solution for it. One of these issues was the screening and access to Palestinian films. He looked at both sides of the matter. Palestinian filmmakers needed a place for their films to be screened, and the Palestinian audience needed a space where they could watch these films. The answer to this issue was the Haifa Independent Film Festival that Khleif co-founded and is now in its 5th edition. Besides it being a platform, the festival became a means to bridge and dismantle the embargo and isolation imposed on them by holding Israeli passports. By holding these passports, Palestinians within the occupied territories are prohibited from traveling to many Arabic countries such as Lebanon, Morocco, and Tunis. “It was hard in the beginning to establish trust”, Khleif admits “but we explained who we are, that we are Palestinians, we are here within Israel, we exist and we fight every day,” he maintained. “With some back and forth, the trust was established. Since then we have been screening not only Palestinian films as part of the festival’s program but also films from Arabic neighboring countries. Palestinian films from Haifa are now also welcomed to be screened in those Arabic countries.”
Building bridges became one of the Jazar Crew’s specialties. They reached out to Palestinians in the West Bank, whose movement is very restricted and usually denied permission when wishing to enter Israel. Contrary to Palestinians with Israeli Passports, they can travel in and out of the West Bank and through the check-points without any constraints. Ramallah has established itself in the last few years as the Palestinian cultural center within the Palestinian territories. Jazar Crew joined local artists and musicians in creating their own cultural events, coordinating a collective agenda and proposed a unified language as a goal of empowerment, despite the compelling division the occupation is striving to maintain.
The reputation of their cultural operations had a worldwide echoing. Bookings included international names such as Nicolas Jaar and Acid Arab. It attracted the attention of Boiler Room, who reached out to Jazar Crew to collaborate on a Boiler Room party in Ramallah and to produce a short documentary film about their activities and the Palestinian underground music scene. This process took a year and a half of brainstorming the execution and representation. From there, Jazar Crew worked hand in hand with Boiler Room from the moment of inception until the final cut was ready to be aired, in efforts to assure their portrayal was genuine. “ We understood that they were really interested in us, our position and what we are about, not just to create a buzz or produce yet another video. They expressed it in many different ways,” Khleif recounted. “For example, normally Boiler Room does Boiler Room Paris and not Boiler Room France, or Boiler Room Berlin and not Boiler Room Germany, but here they called it, Boiler Room Palestine, for the first time, they titled it under a country’s name as a statement.”
Khleif saw an opportunity to expand his message and his sound to a wider crowd. This being in one of the world’s finest playgrounds for Techno music with a highly developed party scene- Berlin. He took the experience he developed and moved to the city 5 years ago. “Lately with all the media coverage, we got exposure as Palestinians. With this attention and interest, a stage was given to us to play music. We have been getting more and more invitations to play,” he explains. His first gig was an invitation by Fusion Festival, to play in a designated area reserved for “Arabic” underground music, an attempt by the festival organizers to appear diverse and inclusive. His set and his name were attached to the label “Palestinian DJ”. Khleif can’t avoid feeling tokenized: “ I was invited to play as a Palestinian, and not because of my music, which usually I don’t like. I like to get bookings for what I do and the music genre I play. I stopped accepting any random bookings and now I always look into the meaning of the event and who is behind it.”
In those 5 years spent in Berlin, his network grew, he played in countless festivals and parties in Berlin and across Germany. He also organized his own parties and events where he invited other Palestinian musicians and bands to Berlin like Muqata’a, Dakn, Toot Ard, and Zahed Sultan.
His music style is not restricted to one genre, it varies from Arabic hip hop to downtempo, but he especially likes Techno because of “it’s dance floor” he explained. “The freedom that exists within it. It doesn’t matter what you look like or where you are from, you became one community, like a city or a country within the dance floor, it’s like you belong to a country and the identity within the dance floor of a techno party.”
The reception of his music in Berlin has been met with intrigue and enthusiasm, but recent events in the party capital Berlin (a scene that is heavily subsidized by the cultural senate’s funding) meant that not everybody shared the same enthusiasm. When the queer-feminist collective Room 4 Resistance used the Hashtag #DJforPalestine on their social media outlets, their party at About Blank club was canceled 3 days prior to the date of their party, by a pressure from the Die Linke “the left” party senator Klaus Lederer who likes to party there according to the club’s management! This sentiment against any solidarity with the Palestinian cause is shared across the political spectrum in Germany, from the far right and all the way to the far left. Volker Beck, member of the party Die Grünen “the Green” demanded that no room be given to those who by identity affiliate themselves with the Palestinian cause or the peaceful resistant movement BDS (Boycott Divest Sanction). This is an international movement that calls for economic pressure on Israel to end the occupation of Palestinian land, grant Arab citizens equal rights and recognize the right of return of Palestinian refugees. The movement is widely endorsed and supported by Jewish organizations such as The Jewish Voice for Peace and many prominent Isreali Academics. Yet the German Bundestag recently has ruled the movement as “anti-semitic” in a resolution that was passed across-party alliance, which cuts off funding to any organization that actively support BDS movement, overlooking the movement’s vast Jewish supporters, which in itself is painfully ironic, Germans accusing Jews of anti-Semitism.
“I’m not anti-semitic!” Khleif declares, “I’m anti-apartheid and anti-racism. Those who scream anti-Semitic to whoever is critical of the right-wing government of Israel and its illegal practices and human right violations, don’t understand what the term Semitic means, and most likely never been to Israel”. On this topic, like the majority of Palestinians if not all, see the BDS movement as a peaceful protest to put pressure on Israel to end its brutal, deadly and inhuman treatment of Palestinians. “It’s simply about human rights” He explains, “for example, we are against the Palestinian Government as much as we are against the Isreali government. I align myself with the people, all oppressed people and not only Palestinians, whether in Africa or Latin America, Europe or Asia”.This German anti-Palestinian bias hasn’t affected him, and he has been continually getting bookings nonetheless: “I’m getting bookings from people who understand the idea and support human rights and justice”. Khleif insists, “in my opinion it's only logical, whether it’s Palestine or not, an artist shouldn’t go to perform in a place, where only a few kilometers away, people are being deprived of their basic human rights and their movement is being restricted, in a place that is based on a racist apartheid system.”