Friday, July 23, 2010

Israel, Not Hamas, Bans Music in Gaza

musicDuring my visit to Gaza this summer saw devastation, destruction and hunger on daily basis. I heard so many horror stories about the situation on the ground prior to my visit, but many of those stories came alive as I walked down the shattered streets of Gaza and spoke to people with shattered dreams and broken spirits. One effect of the Israeli embargo is to limit the goods making it into Gaza Strip to punish the government of Hamas. Items such as cement, glass, paper and steal are also banned; even NGOs commissioned with the rebuilding of Gaza in the aftermath of the Israeli offensive have yet to deliver on their promises of rebuilding.

The list of restricted items is ludicrous. Israel subjects the entry of items such as dairy products and Humus to political facts on the ground. So if the Palestinians in Gaza have been good, they give them a treat. This treat can be letting in few trucks of fresh fruits into the Strip, for example.

I came to learn this summer that Israel bans genuine music CDs and movie DVDs from making it into Gaza. As I was trying to put a list of good songs together to play at my engagement party, I was shocked to learn that no genuine music CDS are sold in Gaza. I even went to Gaza’s business district to try to find someone -anyone – who might have a few original music CDs. I had no luck. When I wanted to do a movie night in Gaza at home, all we can find is the popcorn since genuine DVDs are also banned from making it to Gaza. Arabic production companies such as Rotana, Melody Music, and Mazzika are not permitted to bring in their goods to entrain the people of Gaza. Even DVDs of Hollywood blockbusters do not make it into Gaza like they used to prior to the embargo. So those Egyptian comedies and action movies lose some of the revenue they used to generate from selling their original work in Gaza. Palestinians used to bring those items back with them as they travel back and forth from Egypt–nowadays the crossing is closed and very few people manage to get in or out.
Unfortunately, music CDs and DVDs are not an item that tunnel smugglers chose to bring into Gaza as their profit margin tends to be lower than, say, Snickers chocolate bars. I did once however find a number of original Egyptian flicks, but they were older ones and that was the only way the tunnel smuggler can make a profit. The new releases come at premium, which cuts into the tunnel’s operator’s profit.

This has turned a few venders to selling bootleg and inferior quality copies of CDs and DvDs. Very few new releases make it as it takes them time to download them off the internet and find blank CD necessary to make a bootleg. It does not help that Gaza’s internet is very slow nowadays. Prior to the embargo, it was not fast, but it was faster than it is now. As a result of the lack of new equipment and overcrowded networks the internet does not permit fast downloads and uploads. In other words, it takes an entire day to download an album–your only choice as the embargo bans legal copies form making it. The piracy problem continues as frequent power cuts make downloading from the internet a frustrating mission. You can imagine the frustration of a Palestinian young man wanting to catch an episode of Prison Break, incidentally a big hit with the Gaza youngsters. I will never forget the college girl who complained about not being able to get a good copy of Taylor Swift’s latest album in Gaza. The problem of lack of access to quality entertainment is made worse by the lack of credit cards to purchase albums off iTunes. Hulu, the popular video viewing website does not work in Palestine and that was one of my great regrets as I was looking forward to introducing my fiancé to few episodes of Family Guy and Two and a Half Men.
The irony is that while Hamas, an Islamic affiliated group, allows music and movies to be played in Gaza, the Israelis rob Gazans of any entertainment to enjoy.

As far as human struggles in Gaza, the problems of finding good music is not a major one, but it’s affecting the people the West tries to win over, the ones that actually enjoy American life and the ones who actually comprehend English. The other problem, which Americans better understand, is the lack of safeguard intellectual property rights as a foundation of the new economy. Finally, how is the Israeli ban on music and movies in Gaza isolate Hamas? It does not really do that, if anything banning entrainment in Gaza might actually be doing the exact opposite of that as we are isolating the ones who appreciate the arts. It’s odd how this embargo policy is the gift that keeps on giving to the most extreme segment of Hamas, the zealot religious base, who abhor music.


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