BEIT YEHOSHUA, Israel – Uriya Rosenman grew up on Israeli military bases and served as an officer in an elite army unit. His father was a combat pilot. His grandfather led the paratroopers who captured the Western Wall in Jordan in 1967.
Sameh Zakout, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, grew up in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Ramla. His family was driven from their home during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, known to Palestinians as the “Nakba,” or catastrophe. Many of his relatives have fled to Gaza.
Face to face in a garage above a small plastic table, the two hurl ethnic slurs and clichés at each other, tearing off the veneer of civility covering the simmering resentment between the Jewish state and its Palestinian minority in a video by rap went viral in Israel.
The video, “Let’s Speak Frankly,” which has garnered more than four million views on social media since May, could not have landed at a more opportune time after the eruption of Judeo-Arab violence two months ago which transformed many mixed Israelis. towns like Lod and Ramla in Judeo-Arab battlefields.
Shouting out prejudices on either side, sometimes seemingly on the verge of violence, Mr. Rosenman and Mr. Zakout have produced a work that challenges listeners to overcome stereotypes and discover their shared humanity.
Rosenman, 31, says he wants to change Israel from within by questioning its most basic reflexes. “I think we are afraid and that we are controlled by fear,” he says.
Mr. Zakout, 37, wants to change Israel by overcoming the traumas of their ancestors. “I am not emphasizing my Palestinian identity,” he said. “I am a human being. Period. We are first of all human beings.
On first viewing, the video appears to be anything but a humanistic endeavor.
Mr. Rosenman, the first to speak, launches into a relentless three-minute anti-Palestinian tirade.
“Don’t cry racism. Stop whining. You live in clans, shoot guns at weddings, ”he laughs, his body tense. “Abuse your animals, steal cars, beat your own women. All that interests you is Allah, the Nakba and jihad and honor that controls your impulses.
The camera circles them. A guitar howls.
M. Zakout pulls on his beard, looks away with disdain. He’s heard it all before, including that oft-repeated phrase: “I’m not a racist, my gardener is Arab.”
Then Mr. Zakout, the rising voice, delivers the reverse side of the most intractable stories of the Middle East.
“Enough,” he said. “I’m Palestinian and that’s it, so shut up. I do not support terror, I am against violence, but 70 years of occupation – of course there will be resistance. When you barbecue and celebrate independence, the Nakba is my grandmother’s reality. In 1948 you kicked out my family, the food was still hot on the table when you broke into our homes, occupying and then denying. You don’t speak Arabic, you don’t know anything about your neighbor, you don’t want us to live next to you, but we build your houses.
Mr. Rosenman is agitated. His assertive confidence vanishes as he crosses the mirror of Arab-Jewish incomprehension.
The video pays homage to Joyner Lucas’ “I’m Not Racist,” a similar exploration of the stereotypes and blindness that lock the black-white divide in the United States.
Mr. Rosenman, an educator whose job it was to explain the conflict to young Israeli soldiers, had grown increasingly frustrated with “how things, along with the justification of past trauma for Jews, were built on rotten foundations.” .
“Some things about my country are amazing and pure,” he said in an interview. “Some are very rotten. They are not discussed. We are motivated by trauma. We are a post-traumatic society. The Holocaust gives us a sort of withdrawn legitimacy to not plan for the future, not understand the full picture here, and justify the actions we describe as defending ourselves.
For example, he said, Israel should stop building settlements “on what could be a Palestinian state” in the West Bank, because that state is necessary for peace.
Looking for a way to hold up a mirror of society and reveal its hypocrisies, Mr. Rosenman contacted a friend in the music industry, who suggested he meet Mr. Zakout, an actor and rapper.
They started talking in June of last year, meeting for hours on a dozen occasions, building trust. They recorded the song in Hebrew and Arabic in March and the video in mid-April.
Their timing was impeccable. A few weeks later, the last war in Gaza broke out. Jews and Arabs clashed across Israel.
Their first conversations were difficult.
They argued about 1948. Mr. Zakout spoke about his family in Gaza, how he missed them, how he wanted to know his relatives who lost their homes. He spoke of “the Jewish arrogance that we feel as Arabs, of bigotry.”
“My Israeli friends told me that I put them in front of the mirror,” he said.
Mr. Rosenman said he understood Mr. Zakout’s desire for a united family. It was natural. But why did the Arab armies attack the Jews in 1948? “We were happy with what we got,” he said. “You know we had no other option.”
The reaction to the video was overwhelming, as if it revealed something hidden in Israel. Invitations poured in – to attend conferences, participate in documentaries, organize concerts, record podcasts.
“I’ve been waiting for someone to make this video for a long time,” commenter Arik Carmi said. “How can we fight when we are more like brothers than we admit? Change will not come until we let go of hate.
The two, now friends, are working on a second project, which will examine how self-criticism in a Jewish and Arab society could effect change. He will ask the question: How can you do better, rather than blame the government?
Mr. Zakout recently met Mr. Rosenman’s grandfather, Yoram Zamosh, who planted the Israeli flag at the Western Wall after Israeli paratroopers stormed into Jerusalem’s Old City during the 1967 war. Members of Mr. Zamosh’s Berlin family were murdered by the Nazis at the Chelmno extermination camp.
“He’s a unique and special guy,” Mr. Zakout said of Mr. Yamosh. “He reminds me a little of my grandfather, Abdallah Zakout, his energy, his vibrations. When we talked about his story and his pain, I understood his fear, and at the same time he understood my side.
The video aims to bring viewers to this same kind of understanding.
“This is the start,” Zakout said. “We’re not going to fix this in a week. But at least that’s something, the first stop on a long journey.
Mr Rosenman added: “What we do is supposed to scream out loud that we are no longer afraid. We let go of the trauma of our parents and together build a better future for everyone. “
The last words of the video, from Mr. Zakout, are: “We both have no other country, and this is where the change begins.
They turn to the table in front of them and silently share a meal of pita and hummus.