BEIT YEHOSHUA, Israel – Uriya Rosenman grew up in Israeli military bases and served as an officer in an elite army unit. His father was a fighter pilot. His grandfather led the paratroopers who captured the Western Wall of Jordan in 1967.
Sameh Zakout, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, grew up in the Arab-Jewish city of Ramla. His family was driven from their homeland in the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, known to the Palestinians as “Nakba” or catastrophe. Many of his relatives fled to Gaza.
The two face each other over a small plastic table in a garage, throwing ethnic insults and clichés at each other and tearing off the politeness that superimposed the simmering resentment between the Jewish state and its Palestinian minority in a rap video that went viral is Israel.
The video “Let’s Talk Straight,” which has garnered more than four million views on social media since May, couldn’t have landed at a more propitious time after the Jewish-Arab violence erupted two months ago that transformed many mixed Israelis like Lod and Ramla to Jewish-Arab battlefields.
By shouting at each other’s prejudices, sometimes on the verge of violence, Mr. Rosenman and Mr. Zakout have created a work that challenges the listener to overcome stereotypes and discover their common humanity.
Mr. Rosenman, 31, says he wants to transform Israel from within by challenging its most basic reflexes. “I think we are scared and controlled by fear,” he says.
Mr. Zakout, 37, wants to change Israel by overcoming the trauma of his ancestors. “I’m not emphasizing my Palestinian identity,” he says. “I am human. Period. We are primarily human.”
At first glance, the video looks anything but a humanistic enterprise.
Mr. Rosenman, who speaks first, throws himself into a relentless three-minute anti-Palestinian tirade.
“Don’t cry racism. Stop whining. You live in clans, you fire guns at weddings, ”he scoffs, his body tense. “Abuse your animals, steal cars, beat your own women. All that is important to you is Allah and the Nakba and the Jihad and the honor that controls your urges. “
The camera circles them. A guitar screeches.
Mr. Zakout tugs at his beard, looks away contemptuously. He has heard everything before, including this often repeated sentence: “I am not a racist, my gardener is an Arab.”
Then, in a growing voice, Mr. Zakout tells the other side of the most recalcitrant stories from the Middle East.
“Enough,” he says. “I’m a Palestinian and that’s it, so shut up. I do not support terrorism, I am against violence, but 70 years of occupation – of course there will be resistance. When you’re grilling and celebrating independence, the nakba is my grandmother’s reality. In 1948 you kicked my family out, the food was still warm on the table when you broke into our houses, occupied them and then denied them. You don’t speak Arabic, you don’t know anything about your neighbor, you don’t want us to live next to you, but we’ll build your houses. “
Mr. Rosenman fidgets. His self-confident self-confidence fades when he is wiped through the mirror of Arab-Jewish incomprehension.
The video pays homage to Joyner Lucas’ “I’m Not Racist,” a similar exploration of the stereotypes and blindness that cement the black and white fracture in the United States.
Mr. Rosenman, an educator whose job it was to explain the conflict to young Israeli soldiers, became increasingly frustrated by “how things were built on rotten foundations to justify past traumas for the Jews.”
“Some things about my country are amazing and pure,” he said in an interview. “Some are very lazy. They are not discussed. We are motivated by trauma. We are a post-traumatic society. The Holocaust gives us a kind of back-way legitimacy not to plan for the future, not to understand the overall picture of the situation here and to justify actions that we represent as self-defense. “
For example, Israel should stop building settlements “on a potentially Palestinian state” in the West Bank because that state is needed for peace.
Looking for a way to hold up a mirror to society and expose its hypocrisy, Mr. Rosenman contacted a friend in the music industry who suggested that he meet Mr. Zakout, an actor and rapper.
They started talking to each other in June last year, meeting dozens of times for hours to build trust. They recorded the song in Hebrew and Arabic in March and the video in mid-April.
Your timing was impeccable. A few weeks later the last Gaza war broke out. Jews and Arabs clashed across Israel.
Their early conversations were difficult.
They argued about 1948. Mr. Zakout spoke about his family in Gaza, how he missed them, how he wanted to meet his relatives who had lost their homes. He spoke of the Jewish “arrogance that we as Arabs feel, bigotry”.
“My Israeli friends told me that I would put them in front of the mirror,” he said.
Mr. Rosenman said he understood Mr. Zakout’s longing for a family united. That was taken for granted. But why did Arab armies attack the Jews in 1948? “We were happy with what we got,” he said. “You know we had no other choice.”
The response to the video was overwhelming, as if it were revealing something hidden in Israel. Invitations have been received – to appear at conferences, take part in documentaries, organize concerts, record podcasts.
“I’ve been waiting a long time for someone to do this video,” said one commentator, Arik Carmi. “How can we fight when we are more like brothers than we admit to ourselves? Changes won’t come until we let go of hatred. “
The two men, who are now friends, are working on a second project to investigate how self-criticism could bring about change in a Jewish and Arab society. It will ask Question: How can you do better instead of blaming the government?
Mr Zakout recently met Mr Rosenman’s grandfather, Yoram Zamosh, who placed the Israeli flag on the Western Wall after Israeli paratroopers stormed into Jerusalem’s Old City during the 1967 war. Most of Mr. Zamosh’s family from Berlin was murdered by the Nazis in the Chelmno extermination camp.
“He’s a unique and special guy,” said Mr. Zakout of Mr. Zamosh. “He reminds me a little of my grandfather Abdallah Zakout, his energy, his mood. When we talked about his story and his pain, I understood his fear and at the same time he understood my side. “
The video is designed to give viewers that kind of understanding.
“This is the beginning,” said Mr. Zakout. “We won’t solve this in a week. But at least it is something, the first step on a long way. “
Mr. Rosenman added, “What we’re doing is shouting out loud that we’re no longer afraid. We let go of our parents’ trauma and together build a better future for everyone. “
The last words in Mr. Zakout’s video are: “We both have no other country, and this is where the change begins.”
They turn to the table in front of them and share a meal of pita and hummus in silence.