PublishedWed, 30 Dec 2020, 16:05
- More than 50,000 people have signed a petition to help secure her release.
Palestinian techno DJ Sama' Abdulhadi was detained by the Palestinian Authority on December 27th following an event held near a mosque in the West Bank.
More than 50,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the immediate release of Abdulhadi, whose artist name is SAMA'. She was hosting and performing at an event at the Nabi Musa site as part of a series of four videos commissioned by Beatport. The online music retailer said in a statement that it was "coordinating with Ms. Abdulhadi's family and management team" and hopes that "Ms. Abdulhadi is released as quickly as possible."
Filming began inside at the Nabi Musa site at 3:30 PM on December 27th, with an audience of around 30 people who were mostly wearing masks, Abdulhadi's brother, Seri, told Resident Advisor. It was a private event, with no public tickets available.
When footage from the party surfaced on social media there was a rapid outcry, with misinformation spreading about alcohol and drugs, as well as women dancing naked. The social media narrative also incorrectly stated that the event was held within the mosque, which would have been considered disrespectful. In fact the Nabi Musa site is divided into two parts, a mosque and shrine intended for prayer, and a separate space where a hostel has been built alongside a bazaar. The event took place in the latter.
At 7:40 PM, as Abdulhadi was playing her second-to-last track, a group of around ten men burst into the venue and told the organisers and dancers to leave, saying it wasn't right to do this in a religious space. Some were armed with batons, another threw fireworks, and they pushed the sound equipment. They were not violent towards the attendees.
The organisers packed up and left. By the time they arrived home, the story was all over social media. The next day the police came to the Abdulhadi house. Seri and Sama' expected a simple conversation, but Sama' was taken to the general attorney's office and detained. To date, nobody else associated with the party has been detained.
On December 29th, the attorney general extended Abdulhadi's detention for 15 days pending investigation of two charges: desecrating a religious site and violating health protocols by holding an event during the Covid-19 pandemic. Seri told RA that Sama' had obtained the relevant permissions for the event from the Palestinian Ministry Of Tourism. Documentation provided by the Abdulhadi family shows that not only was the event approved but the ministry explicitly acknowledged that electronic music would be played. Beatport's statement also said that it "a fully licensed and permitted private event."
The Nabi Musa venue has a complex history dating back to the 13th century. In 2019, it reopened as a Palestinian cultural centre. At the opening ceremony, prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said that he hoped the venue would attract hundreds of thousands of tourists a year from Palestine and abroad.
The fact that Nabi Musa is explicitly designated as a touristic and cultural space, not just a religious site, didn't stop many Palestinians on social media from complaining that playing electronic music there was sacrilegious. (This also wasn't the first musical event held at the site.) On December 28th, a large crowd gathered to pray in symbolic defence of the building's sanctity.
There is a long history of the Palestinian Authority shutting down electronic music events in the West Bank, partially because of a public perception that electronic music is "western music" and therefore associated with Israel and the occupation. When the attorney general extended Abdulhadi's detention, part of the reason was that "techno music is not part of Palestinian heritage."
Though Abdulhadi's music certainly has appeal outside of Palestine, this doesn't make her work opposed to Palestinian heritage, Seri argues. "Violin and piano aren't part of Palestinian heritage either, technically," he says. "If we're going to talk about pure Palestinian heritage in music, we couldn't have hip-hop or even orchestras."
Abdulhadi comes from a well-known Palestinian family—her grandmother was a noted writer and feminist. Many of the online comments directed at Abdulhadi in the past few days have focused on her appearance. "Had she been a man, society would have treated her case differently," said an anonymous source from the Palestinian scene. "The fact that she is a sound engineer in a patriarchal society, she is breaking norms. She challenges everything around her with her music."
Sama's story has become a focal point for larger political and social debates across Palestine—about the nature of Palestinian heritage, the influence of western culture and the failings of the local Palestinian government. There are suggestions that while the Ministry Of Tourism approved the event, they did not inform the Ministry of Islamic Endowments, which protects the site. Faith in the Palestinian Authority is currently at a low, following a rise in poverty and the bad handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"They're scapegoating Sama' because she's running an event which is outside of our norms," says the source. "But there's an underlying problem which is that people aren't happy with the way the government is running the country."
Yazan Khalili, a cultural organiser in the Palestinian scene and cofounder of Radio Al Hara, says Abdulhadi's detention and the heated public discourse are all-too-familiar. "When the music is too western or too experimental for the locals, the community attacks it," he says. "Then instead of the Palestinian Authority defending you, they join the attackers. The instability of the Palestinian Authority's standards makes it impossible to trust that you are in a community that can be governed by law. The law should not move according to popular opinion."
Abdulhadi called her brother today from Jericho prison. He reports that she is being treated well, but is concerned about how public opinion of her is being twisted. She worries whether it will be safe for her to walk around in public after she has been released. "I think she will be exonerated eventually," he says, "I'm just scared about how long she has to wait until she's free."
Read more about SAMA' and the Palestinian electronic music scene.
This story has been updated to include a statement from Beatport.