The Solace of Music Amid Chaos
By Tim Greenwald
Junction 48 is an illustrative portrayal of a Palestinian hip-hop group in the city of Lod, also known as Lydda. Lod is a mixed Jewish-Arab city from which most of the city’s Arab inhabitants were exiled during the 1948 Palestinian Exodus. Historically, this event is commonly referred to as the Lydda Death March due to the staggering fact that roughly 70,000 Palestinians were expelled from the city within the context of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
In the film, the two protagonists, Kareem, who is the lead rapper, and Manar, who is the lead singer for the hip-hop group, use their musical passions to convey the internal struggles resulting from the external oppression of Israeli society and government. There are numerous sub-plots within the film that elucidate the internal repression that Palestinians face -- from drug abuse to myopic religious conservatism to police brutality -- in the struggle to achieve independent statehood and autonomous existence. The characters in the movie speak, rap and sing fervently on behalf of a growing population of young Arabs who are simply striving for normalcy in their day-to-day lives.
The atmosphere that permeates the city of Lod is desolate and impoverished, but the film juxtaposes a seemingly hopeless external environment with the internal richness and vivacity of the city’s Palestinian inhabitants. Without the spiritedness of the Palestinians who animate the city, the environment could evoke a sense of despair and destruction, but the film’s characters conjure an unbreakable ambience of hope. Even following the most horrific tragedies, the community remains in solidarity as a collective whole. Each individual lives for, and on behalf of, his or her neighbors.
Throughout the film, the narratives and dialogues capture the economic and cultural persecution inflicted on Palestinians by Israelis. I will refrain from expounding on the storyline too much because I believe viewers should experience the emotional provocations in the film firsthand. Suffice it to say, the directors masterfully depict the destruction of Palestinian homes by Israeli forces, the loss of loved ones and the myriad ways of coping with grief, and the stark civilizational, religious and sociolinguistic divisions between Jews and Arabs.
Kareem is resolutely determined to instigate change for his people through his passion for lyricism and his political consciousness. His devotion to music is so powerful that it transcends the anguish that most would feel in his situation. It is so powerful that it eclipses any feelings of vengeance towards the Israelis, so much so that he is even willing to perform at the same venue as hateful nationalist Israeli rappers in Tel Aviv. The film illustrates the power of music to overcome dichotomous modes of thinking, which are often blinding and counterproductive to the overarching aim of promulgating peace and freedom. No form of art is more politically impactful than that which genuinely conveys the lived experience of those who are victimized by injustice and inequality. Kareem transmits this message from the heart.
In passing, the film alludes to institutional shortcomings of Palestinian authorities, the Israeli government’s purposeful and remorseless subjugation of Palestinian livelihoods, the patriarchal suppression of women, the longstanding divisiveness and turmoil that has plagued the region (and the Palestinian voicelessness therein). After the film, the main actors and directors came on stage and elaborated on these ideas in relation to their personal connection to the ongoing strife in the Palestinian territory.
Overall, Junction 48 is a poetic portrait of the atrocities that Palestinians undergo every single day. The film is also a beacon of light revealing the capacity of love and resilience to illumine even the most ominous of skies. Kareem, Manar and the other characters in the film are intimately relatable, and both their pain and promise alike to reverberate resoundingly through the body and mind of anyone watching. One of the most prominent successes of the film is its ability to instill empathy in the viewer as it speaks to our shared identity — a unicity towards which we must all return if we wish to inhabit a harmonious world.
Every single day, individuals like Kareem are among the thousands of men, women and children whose fundamental human rights and freedoms are violated. We must all reflect on the incomprehensible bravery of the Palestinian people and take the time to profoundly appreciate our lives. And, to the extent we are able, we must consider offering our help to the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who find themselves, through no fault of their own, in circumstances as horrific as those depicted in Junction 48.