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This land is (not) your land Right wingers opposed to Israel's withdrawal from Gaza wage war with music to court popular opinion

Right wingers opposed to Israel's withdrawal from Gaza wage war with music to court popular opinion

Special to The Globe and Mail

JERUSALEM

words and music pouring from Nachi Eyal's computer, in his small Jerusalem office, are hard and angry.

"What's going on in your head, my brother Sharon?

Listen, look around. Those same houses that you built, the same Arabs that you fought," the voice half-raps, half-sings, following a recording of a television announcer reading off a list of suicide-bomb victims. "This land is not yours to give away."

This voice -- belonging to Israeli right-wing activist and amateur musician Yaron Oz -- is one of many to emerge in recent weeks to protest Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's controversial decision to withdraw Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip this summer.

But while protesters burn tires, block roads and fortify homes and hotels in Gush Katif, the largest Jewish settlement in Gaza, there is a protest of another kind stirring.

"Songs and music make things more tangible," said Eyal, secretary of the right-wing Tkuma party popular among Israeli settlers, who has helped his son Amotz gather a collection of more than 60 protest songs -- religious music, kids' songs, pop, hip-hop, rock and folk music, many of them mournful, some of them angry.

"You can't wage war with just commandos and infantry."

Ten of those songs, along with five more from well-known Israeli artists, are being compiled into an anti-disengagement album, Sung with Love, to be released later this summer.

This spring, as emotions raged and major highways were blocked by protesters, 17-year-old Amotz said he was listening to the radio and heard an updated version of a song written about Israel's evacuation of Yamit, in the Sinai Peninsula, in 1982. This Was My House, written by Israeli musician Meni Begar, was revamped by the group Kele 6, with help from sultry vocalist Hila Harari.

"I heard the song and I thought 'Hey, why don't we have something like that, something right wing?' " said Amotz, who lives with his family in the West Bank settlement of Pesagot, near Jerusalem. "I had some contacts in the music industry, I knew a couple of singers, so I contacted them and asked if they'd be interested."

But the project was slow to catch on in a music industry more attuned to songs advocating peace: "At the beginning they didn't want to because they were afraid, cautious. They didn't want to be associated with the right side of the map," Amotz said.

So father and son began an advertising campaign with flyers and newspaper ads, asking for submissions. The entries began pouring in a short time later, and support from a handful of professional musicians -- including Etti Levi and Ariel Zilber, an outspoken opponent of withdrawal who has joined protesters in Gush Katif.

The response is not surprising, said Tamar Liebes, chair of the communications department at Hebrew University. Life in a volatile land has created a society that is intensely political, and a culture of song has developed around that.

"There were the anthems of the underground movement even before the state. Each kind of resistance movement has its own song. . . . I think songs are very important in talking about Israeli culture," Liebes said.

"When you're looking for symbols and things to rally around, this is one of them."

Such a song contest also benefits from the popularity of television programs like A Star Is Born, an Israeli adaptation of American Idol, and prime-time concert programming on public networks that features choirs singing patriotic songs in beautiful gardens, aired regularly since the beginning of the intifada in 2000 to provide a refuge from violent and depressing news reports.

"Obviously in Israel the politics are always there -- people are hooked on news, they listen to news every half-hour," said Oz, who composed his angry anthem first as a folk song before twisting it into its current rap-style rhythm in the recording studio. "It's time people write what they feel rather than the stupidity we hear on the radio -- it's empty, it's nothing."

Another amateur musician, Eliezer Cohen, said his words and music just came to him as he was returning to his home in the Gaza settlement of Neveh Dekalim after a wedding. He, his wife and six children are to be evacuated this summer, though he said they will stay in their home until the soldiers arrive.

"Somehow the words flowed, and the music too," he said of the song, which was recorded by his 11-year-old daughter Meirav. "Music touches the inside of the heart. My mother, for example -- she heard the song and she cried. So it has its power, and somehow maybe it can also [have] influence."

Organizers are now in process of trying to have the songs recorded professionally. A concert is expected to follow early in July.

"It's more long-term, writing a song, than holding protests or blocking roads. We want it to become part of the culture," Amotz Eyal said.

However, among the anti-disengagement movement's greatest struggles, Liebes warned, is winning popular opinion. "Most of the Israeli public is for disengagement . . . so in that sense, their empathy stops with the more aggressive opposition," she said. "If [the opposition] closes roads, they appear less empathetic than if they go to a family and talk about them leaving their home, and show their kids' reactions. "This is part of gathering support and emotional empathy."

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