Interview with Rami by CK ’24.
Rami is a writer, journalist, filmmaker, and cultural activist from Lyd, a town 10-minutes from Tel Aviv, Israel. He studied biology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, but currently works in cultural activism. Rami is one of the founders of the Palestine Music Expo, which is a three-day festival bringing together worldwide producers and Palestinian musical artists. The goal of PMX is to begin creating an infrastructure for a Palestinian music industry. Rami is also a member of the founding collective of Local Call, a newspaper written in Hebrew that challenges the terminology used in Israeli mainstream media. In this audio interview, Rami discusses growing up “between two worlds” as a Palestinian raised in Jewish neighborhoods. He details his first encounter with adult racism and the effects this event had on him—how it showed him that he is someone who fights back. This, he says, greatly influenced his future path toward cultural activism and, eventually, filmmaking. He is currently working on his first film, Lyd in Exile, in collaboration with Sarah Friedland of Skidmore College.
I’m from Lyd. Lyd is ten minutes from Tel Aviv. It’s a mixed Arab and Jewish city. It had an indigenous Palestinian population. After the occupation in 1948, it started having Jewish people. So I grew up there, between two worlds, a Palestinian living in Jewish neighborhoods.
A lot of Palestinians that grew up in similar conditions to where I grew up suffer from an identity crisis. I don’t think I have an identity crisis and I think it’s because of the education I received from my parents. Even as a kid, I was already very much aware of who I am, or trying to be aware of who I am. I know that I’m not… I’m different, I’m not like the other kids.
I mean, let me tell you the story of the first time I was called an aravi masriach, which means in free translation, a smelly Arab. And smelly Arab is a derogatory term that was used and is still used against Palestinian construction workers. I was playing football, what you guys call soccer, just like underneath our apartment building. I was playing with other kids on the block. And, these two kids were also brothers and they were on my team and they were just like terrible. We were losing the game because of them. I’m a very competitive person, so every time I play, even if it’s just a neighborhood game, I take it very seriously. But they start fighting, instead of playing. So tried to separate between the two. So I positioned myself between the two of them and I pushed them farther from each other. And who sees that? Their mother, who was just hanging laundry from her window outside. So, she calls me aravi masriach in Hebrew, which means you smelly Arab, you terrorist, you mekhabel, you terrorist, don’t touch my kids.
When an adult humiliates you, tries to humiliate you when you’re a kid, it feels different. So, I remember, I went up to my parents, back to my home, and I just wanted to see my mom. And I was crying. And I remember my dad was having dinner and he was like “why are you getting so hysterical?” To him, it was like an initiation ceremony. To them, it was normal. It was like, you’ll have a lot of these in your lifetime, you’ll have a lot of these situations in your lifetime, so if you want to cry about every one of them, I mean, it’s just like, why? I mean, you can’t just like cry. So, they advised me to fight back.
So, they told me what to do. That neighbor was living on the same floor. So I went outside my home, I went to her door, knocked on her door, she opened her door, she was surprised, she didn’t expect to see the neighbor’s kid. The one that she just humiliated, called him a smelly Arab. So I looked at her and said “Aligra! Pfff. I don’t smell. If there’s a stinky smell, it’s coming from you not from me.” And then I ran back to my parents. It was a very beautiful moment back then. It was one of the pivotal moments in my life, as a kid. It made me the person I am today, the person that fights back, the person that doesn’t stay quiet.
A few years ago, I became a filmmaker, still trying to finish my first feature. So back in 2014, or 2015, I got an email from a filmmaker who is also a professor at Skidmore College and she was interested in my hometown, in the story of my hometown. And she was coming to Palestine. So, we met and we decided to make a film together because, in a way, the story of my hometown is an untold story. But at the same time, it encapsulates what happened in 1948, and what is still happening. Because I claim, that the nakba, the ethnic cleansing, that the catastrophe of the Palestinian people that happened in 1948, didn’t end.
You know, I used to tell the students: educate yourself about Palestine. It’s easy. Don’t believe what you see in American media. Most Americans don’t know the situation with the 48-ers, the people like me. We live in an Apartheid state, I am a second-class citizen.
Talk to people from here, from Palestine. You’ll see, you’ll hear voices, and you’ll discover that Palestinians are human beings as well and we deserve to live in equality and freedom.