‘Dead Nazi’ to ‘Sons of Amalek’: How Israel is weaponising music to dehumanise Palestinians

Songs like 'Harbu Darbu' and 'Zeh Aleinu' are not 'soundtracks of resistance' — they're celebrations of death.
Updated 03 Apr, 2024

Beating chests, pounding on war drums, blaring horns and shouting provocative chants all make up scenes from pre-historic war times — when music was used as a tool to instil fear into the hearts of adversaries.

In ancient Greece, martial hymns known as the “Paean” were sung to invoke the favour of gods in battle. During the mediaeval period, battle songs would glorify war crimes and demonise groups of people, fuelling aggression and animosity among others. The Norse Vikings used ‘kvad’ (also spelled ‘kvæði’) — composed and performed by poets and musicians — to romanticise war, death, and “heroic” exploits.

As societies evolved, so did music and its associations, allowing it to be used as a propaganda tool to further fundamentalism, political ideologies and nationalistic narratives — its recall value lending it an upper hand over other art forms. Not everyone remembers a book, a film, a play or a poem the way they do a song. Even if it’s in a language they don’t speak and especially if it’s catchy — think the South Korean hit ‘Gangnam Style’.

The digital battlegrounds of today understand the power of music all too well — and advertisers, businesses, influencers, even your next-door neighbour have benefitted from it. So has Israel and its military, especially since October 7.

Music coming out of Israel over the past five months has surpassed propaganda and is in many cases outright hate speech. It is reflective of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s intentions. The marriage between Israel’s right-wing rhetoric and its militainment has become a testament to Netanyahu’s fascist policies.

Couple that with Israel’s demonstrated history of cultural appropriation, its music is now not only unoriginal but also racist.

Giving hip-hop a bad name

Gestures of guns being fired, fists and middle fingers raised, intense trap music and calls for the death of Palestinians set to a drill beat all make up scenes from hit Israeli war anthem ‘Harbu Darbu’ by rap duo Ness Ve Stilla. The track features derogatory terms like “rats” and “sons of Amalek” for Palestinians — a biblical reference to the “enemy nation” repeatedly used especially by Netanyahu to justify the mass killing of Palestinians by denying the existence of “innocent civilians” in Gaza.

The term “Harbu Darbu” itself originates from Syrian Arabic words meaning “swords and strike,” and is a call to “rain hell” on Israel’s “enemies”, as per Diana Abbany in her feature for the Untold Mag. The track names Hamas leaders in the same breath as “enemy” celebrities Bella Hadid, Dua Lipa and Mia Khalifa, all of whom have expressed solidarity for Palestine in the past.

Khalifa dragged the song through the mud for its influences that give hip-hop — a genre that has historically served as an outlet for the disenfranchised and marginalised — a bad name. “Y’all that song calling for the IDF to kill me, Bella, and Dua is over a DRILL beat, they can’t even call for genocide in their own culture, they had to colonise something to get it to #1,” she tweeted.

Drill, a subgenre of hip hop created by Black artists from Chicago, features heavily in Palestinian rap as well.

No problem here

Despite the hate speech and violent sentiments evoked by the track, YouTube has not removed ‘Harbu Darbu’s’ music video since its release four months ago. In fact, it has racked up 21 million views on the video streaming platform till date. Spotify, Apple Music and other streaming giants have not taken any action against the song either.

As per a 2022 Washington Post report, Spotify maintains a strict policy against violent content uploaded to its platform. Yet, Mohammed Assaf’s 2015 track ‘Ana Dammi Falastini’ (My Blood is Palestinian) was temporarily removed from the platform, as well as from Apple Music and Deezer in May last year while ‘Harbu Darbu’ and other propaganda songs remain untouched.

Assaf and Spotify gave contrasting statements in response to the controversy. While Assaf said he had received an email from Spotify telling him his song had been taken down for “inciting against Israel,” Spotify stated that the decision to remove the song came at the behest of distributors. “We are not against publishing the song,” a Spotify representative told Al Jazeera at the time.

Regardless, a simple Google search will reveal that ‘Ana Dammi Falastini’ is a celebration of the Palestinian identity rather than a mockery of, or threat to, Israel. The song surged in popularity during the 2021 global demonstrations against Israeli crackdowns in Sheikh Jarrah but rather than delving into anti-Semitic rhetoric, it celebrates Palestinian heritage.

Music as a weapon

Being one of the most popular and offensive of Israel’s many “genocide anthems”, ‘Harbu Darbu’s is just one of many anti-Palestine songs released since October 7, and represents only a fragment of Israel’s history of militainment.

When it’s not villainising Palestinians, the Israeli hip-hop and pop propaganda machine paints Israelis as victims of a war-torn state, citing religious stories to reinstate their “right” over a land they continue to rob, depicting them as an “eternal nation”.

Israel’s not just employing blood-pumping anthems to spread its message — sad songs accompanied by videos of dancing Israeli soldiers have been plastered across social media to garner sympathy.

‘Rage and resilience’ — over what?

This isn’t a new tool for Israel — rewind to the last decade when songs like ‘Ahmad Loves Israel’ by Amir Benayoun were popular. The 2014 track sparked controversy for its provocative lyrics demonising Arabs and added to Israel’s repertoire of music weaponised with calls for violence against a community.

As per the Los Angeles Times, ‘Ahmad Loves Israel’ featured a fictional Arab narrator who spoke about wanting to stab Jews, fuelling Islamophobic tropes. The song’s aggressive tone and inflammatory rhetoric fuelled accusations of racism and incitement to violence. In response to the backlash, Benayoun said the track may have been inspired by violence but “wasn’t meant to celebrate it”.

Several songs released since Oct 7 have followed a similar tune. A Times of Israel report on songs of “rage and resilience” becoming soundtracks for Israelis since the Hamas attack boasts many such numbers. One of them is Subliminal’s song, ‘Zeh Aleinu’ (It’s On Us), described by the outlet as “an angry anthem about a country seeking victory in a war of survival while simultaneously looking to the future.”

The report proudly declares the song’s “clear militarism and emotionality” being inspired by hip-hop hits like ‘Harbu Darbu’ and ‘Horef ‘23’ (Winter of ‘23) by Odiah and Izi. The beginning verses of the song translate to: “Good evening, Gaza, another day, another dead Nazi/ Nova People are on the beach, Golani Brigade is in the parliament/ They’re saying to Yahya Sinwar/ Yeah… we’ve seen war/ Boom bye bye b**** your time is over!“

Klein Halevi, a writer and contributor to the outlet states that the “world-class anger” expressed by the Israeli hop-hop community is just one facet of Israel’s current musical environment.

A video surfaced in November of Israeli singer Lior Narkis serenading a group of Israeli soldiers in Gaza adds a another shocking layer to Israel’s war. “Gaza, you b****,” Narkis shouts to resounding applause. “Gaza, you daughter of a huge w****, like your mother, Gaza. Gaza, you w****. Gaza you black woman, you trash.”

Israel’s ‘resistance anthems’ are unlike any other — rather than resounding calls for unity or pride, there is hatred spewed against Palestinians.

Songs being released by Israeli artists “in response” to October 7 have done more than just convey hatred — they are facilitating shaping extreme nationalist identities and dehumanising an entire people. The best example of this is a track that came out last year, sung by Israeli children about “annihilating everyone” in Gaza. Called the ‘Friendship song 2023’, the song has been co-written by Shulamit Stolero and Ofer Rosenbaum, chairperson of the Civil Front — a ‘non-political’ Israeli group formed to mobilise the Israeli society in support of the war on Gaza.

Its music video was removed from YouTube for violating the platform’s terms of services. As per Yahoo! News, it was also shared, then quickly removed by Kan, the Israeli state-owned news channel, after receiving angry responses from around the globe.

The ‘Friendship song 2023’ is an adaptation of a renowned 1949 poem commemorating Jews killed during the Nakba. The original track’s title was replaced by “We Are the Children of the Victory Generation”.

The altered lyrics state: “On the Gaza beach the autumn night is descending / Planes are bombing, ruin follows ruin. See the IDF crossing the borderline / To annihilate the Swastika carriers. In one more year / There won’t be anything left there / And we’ll return safely to our home. In one more year / We’ll eliminate them all and go back to plowing our fields.”

This track also refers to Israel as the “the eternal nation” — a religious sentiment that is rehashed in much of Israeli propaganda music. Israel’s premier male singer Eyal Golan’s song ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ (The Israeli Nation Lives) echoes a similar sentiment. Released a week and a half after October 7, it claims, “Because the eternal people never fear/even when it’s hard to see.”

As if stealing land wasn’t enough

Speaking of warping reality, there are now several Israeli tracks misrepresenting Palestinian culture as Israeli, such as Banaia Barabi’s ‘Bein Hanahar Layam’ (From the River to the Sea).

Adapting the popular Palestinian chant that demonstrators from across the Western world have been prohibited from using for its ‘anti-Semitic’ implications — the slogan has been largely misrepresented in an attempt to silence Palestinian voices — the track released in February is described by Israeli journalist Klein Halevi as a “beautiful love song to the land and people of Israel.”

In his song, Barabi says, “We won’t stop even if the world asks for a chance/We won’t stay silent, be ready/If any of you are still alive, save these words/From the River to the Sea, Israel will be free.”

Halevi defends the track as an “updated, Eastern-influenced example of an older Zionist Hebrew genre of songs and poems that praise the land of Israel, and demonstrates ‘a seamless continuity of the genre’, and shows how it can adapt to new musical tastes.”

Of course the anti-Semitic outrage does not apply to this “adaptation”.

Assaf’s ‘Ana Dammi Falastini’, the very song that was removed temporarily by music streaming platforms, was also co-opted by singer Elkana Marziano, a former winner of The Voice Israel. Over the original beat, Marziano sings: “My blood is Jewish”. According to TRT, the appropriation is meant to “strip Palestinians of their identity.”

Examining the role of resistance music

While propaganda music has often been used as a tool to fuel violence, music of resistance has served as a potent force in fighting oppression and advocating for change. Bands like Pink Floyd and Rage Against the Machine have set the blueprint for socially conscious lyrics and activism and can be looked up when writing songs in protest.

Pink Floyd’s iconic album The Wall not only critiques authoritarianism and conformity but also serves as a rallying cry against oppression. Similarly, Rage Against the Machine’s politically charged lyrics and aggressive sound have made them synonymous with resistance movements around the world.

In the context of South Asia, ‘Hum Dekhenge’ by Faiz Ahmed Faiz stands tall against all forms of oppression with its implications changing under varying circumstances. From Iqbal Bano singing it to a charged crowd in Lahore in 1986, to students in India reciting its verses in protest, ‘Hum Dekhenge’ continues to inspire artists and people from all walks of life — an eternal protest anthem.

But it is essential to distinguish between art in resistance and art in propaganda, as even the co-opting of something good can change its meaning completely. The appropriation of the Swastika by Hitler, for example, has changed the world’s perception of the “symbol of wellness” altogether.

Similarly, The Kashmir Files’ use of ‘Hum Dekhenge’ back in 2022 flipped the song on its head and garnered heavy criticism online.

The weaponisation of resistance music is a tool in the arsenal of those seeking to further propaganda and false narratives. It is therefore imperative that digital platforms take proactive measures to penalise the dissemination of propaganda thinly veiled as ‘resistance’.

Music may have had its place throughout the history of wars, but not all anthems should be celebrated. Anthems dehumanising groups of people and celebrating murder have no place on music platforms for all the world to listen to. All is not fair in love and war — and there’s definitely nothing fair about Israel’s war on Gaza.


Love Your Country Apr 02, 2024 03:19pm
I thought our own very famous 1965 Noor Jahan ''puttar hatan tai nahi vikday'' would get mentioned too....
Ali Munir Apr 02, 2024 09:17pm
I applaud you for writing this essay. I am surprised that this hasnt been taken down yet. Didnt Pakistan's handlers explicitly ask the stooges in power to restrict any pro palestinian content on their news websites. From claiming shawarma and hummus to thiers to now palestinian songs, they have found new lows to go to.
IMRAN SARFRAZ Apr 02, 2024 09:19pm
They are doing what they suppose to do. What are we doing? We are cowards, admit it.
Rebirth Apr 03, 2024 01:35am
The war to reclaim territory from the Israelites is ongoing from West Asia to South Asia. Whether it’s the areas they’ve occupied in Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan or the areas they’ve occupied in Pakistan such as Kandahar, the entire world is facing a raging Israelite rebellion against humanity that must be quelled or we’ll cease to exist as human beings.
flavian rego Apr 03, 2024 06:10am
You mean Censorship.
Syed Hasni Apr 03, 2024 02:52pm
In 1926, Mahatma Gandhi said, “To know music is to transfer it to life. This is no life at all
Nadia Apr 03, 2024 03:55pm
If half the amount of thought that goes into designing fancy lawn suits and dupattas had gone in a timely way to peaceful resolution of this conflict… this article would not have existed and the songs in the world would have been those of love and unison instead of hate and division.
Taj Ahmad Apr 04, 2024 08:09am
Music and songs were good specially in India-Pakistan from 1950 to 1990.
Asma Ali Apr 04, 2024 08:28am
Much needed journalism