Sleep in Resistance
These songs come from the very eye of the storm. Aida, Dheisheh, Fawwar, al-Arroub, Balata, Jalazone, Qalandiya – those are the Palestinian camps where they have been recorded. The first two are at the top of the list of places in the world with the highest concentration of tear gas in the air. All share – besides the ethnicity of their residents – the experience of a permanent state of siege and ever new forms of harassment invented by the Israeli authorities. These songs can be heard in places of brutal – and actually double – oppression, for historical violence (the Naqba), which has forced thousands of Palestinians to leave their homes, overlaps here with actual violence, directed against the refugees that live in the camps. As if it weren’t enough to drive the people out of the country, but to drive the country out of the people as well. To disconnect them from their own culture, strip them of their civil rights, and then to make their life untenable.
In the streets of the camps, overt violence against and unjustified arrests not only of adults but of kids as well are a daily occurrence, while at night Israeli commandos carry out home searches under the pretext of anti-terrorist operations, fire at alleged militant positions, disturb silence. Sleep deprivation, a torture method used by oppressors all over the world, is employed here against whole neighbourhoods. As in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Guantanamo, the purpose is to keep the subjugated populace in a state of constant agitation, to keep their minds occupied, to never let them forget about their humiliation. Dream deprivation is also a way of cutting off the targets from the realm of regeneration and relaxation, of refusing the terrorized people a chance to let their imagination fly. It is not enough to occupy a territory: the refugees also need to be refused access to soothing oblivion, to an inner emigration that could at least partly alleviate the pain of the physical one.
In those places, Karolina Grzywnowicz has recorded lullabies sung by residents (usually women) in spite of two techniques of power: cultural uprooting and sleep deprivation. Quiet and tender, these songs are also acts of subversion and resistance for which one can get punished. The compilation includes songs from different regions and periods: some are recent, some traditional, and some a creative mix of the two. Protest is not only inscribed here in the very fact of their being sung, but also encoded in their recurring motifs. A ballad about separation from a loved one speaks of nostalgia for the homeland, a children’s rhyme turns into a political pamphlet, streaked with references to the current situation in the region. Sometimes these songs adopt the form of a parable, at other times they wish the children being lulled to sleep a better future than the reality that surrounds them at present.
Listening to these recordings, one can clearly feel that the lullabies are neither separate from reality nor can they be reduced to an object of consumption. This can be heard when they blend smoothly with fragments of conversations or trail off when memory has failed the singer and he or she makes a break to discuss the next stanza. This joint searching for fragments of tradition dispersed in memories is the very core of resistance; it is the actual political statement of these modest singers. It is here that the firmest no pasarán is declared, one that seems to render all the drones, stun grenades, and tear gas ineffective. The power of a tender collectivity making sure that the youngest ones sleep tight is irresistible indeed.
Perhaps, in order to ensure the survival of a community, it is first necessary to protect its flickering existence, woven with dreams, fantasies, and memories, suspended between dream and reality, between the past and the present, in a realm where Palestine simply still exists. Falling asleep, one can persist precisely in staunchest resistance, regaining one’s strength for further struggle, even if it was to preserve one’s ordinary, everyday dignity.
As we know, the Palestinian camps expand only upwards, with the roofs of existing buildings constantly turning into the floors of new storeys. Such is the fate of those who year after year, piece by piece, are being stripped of the part of their homeland that has been left to them. But on each successive floor this homeland’s hidden anthem resounds, sung as a lullaby. How many more floors must be built for the world to truly hear the cry that these songs convey?