Israeli Troops Play with Popular Music in Hebron
During my time doing research on the Israeli metal scene in 1998 I heard an interesting story: Apparently an Israeli metal fan was doing his military service in an undercover unit in Hebron. Every day he was woken up early by the call to prayer from a nearby minaret. So he snuk into the mosque and replaced the tape of the call to prayer with one of Sepultura's «Beneath the Remains« and the next morning Hebron was awoken by death metal.
Now this story was never corroborated so it’s possible that it’s some kind of urban myth. But, assuming it is true, it raises some thought-provoking questions about the politics of metal. On the one hand, the story highlights the oppressive nature of the occupation – the ability of Israeli soldiers to create mayhem at will. You can hear echoes in this story of how music has been used in military oppression and torture in the Iraq war and indeed other wars. On the other hand, you can read the story as a kind of nihilistic form of resistance at the insanity of the religion-stoked war between Israelis and Palestinians. Let’s not forget that the militant settlers of Hebron, whom the IDF is protecting, are hardly metal fans. Israeli conscripts do not stop being metal fans once they join up and the story provides a hint of the complex ways in which a love of metal can both reinforce a kind of imperialism and stoke a kind of disorder that undermines military discipline in potentially subversive ways. As ever, metal is an ambivalent presence within ‘real world’ politics.
This story has been on my mind again due to the viral circulation of this video, made by an IDF unit in Hebron:
Unlike the Sepultura story, this prank does not appear to disturb the daily lives of Palestinians in Hebron. The dance seems to have taken place on a back street and the music itself looks like it’s been overdubbed. But there’s a similar kind of politics at work: the gap between the relative freedom of the IDF to «play» in Hebron versus the lack of freedom of Palestinian residents is still stark. Again, the IDF soldiers seem to inhabit another world, not only from the Palestinians, but from the religious Jewish settlers in Hebron. The incongruity of Ke$ha’s music in this context is even greater than Sepultura’s (at least death metal is a sound with resonances of conflict) and perhaps this, together with the image of soldiers performing a choreographed dance while fully armed, gives the video a kind of whimsical quality that is sort of endearing.
Are some contexts too ‘serious’ for pranks to be appropriate? Can the pranks be read as cynical comments by soldiers stuck between two sets of fundamentalists? Does the lack of freedom of the Palestinians to engage in such pranks neccessarily mean that no one else should either?
I’m not sure what the answers are to these questions. What I do know is that they are worth taking seriously. As ever, popular music opens doors on the complexity of the political.
Published on July 07, 2010
Last updated on January 16, 2020
Keith Kahn-Harris is a sociologist and writer living in London. He is the author of Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge (Berg 2007) together with many other articles on metal culture. His website and blog is kahn-harris.org and he is @KeithKahnHarris on twitter.