Israel being a country which isnt really on peoples
minds when it comes to international DIY hardcore punk, its about
time that the hidden treasures are revealed. Federico and Johnny from
Dir Yassin were interviewed by Y@hoo in September 98. The name Dir Yassin
comes from the name of a Palestinian village on the outskirts of Jerusalem
until the outbreak of the 1948 (Israels independence) war. During
the war, between 100 and 150 of the villages population was slaughtered
in clod blood: Most of the people killed were women and children. This
atrocity was committed by an extreme right wing Zionist militia, that
later on became part of the IDF (Israeli Defense Force).
Why dont you start out with a little history of the band.
F: Well, we started in December 97. After the USF / NEKHEI NAATZA US tour, it was obvious the two bands were going to split up because some of the members decided to stay in the States. So the rest of us who returned were thinking of starting a new band. After a while, we got 5 people together. All of us have been in Israeli DIY bands before.
Why did you choose the name? Maybe you can explain the meaning behind it.
The idea was to bring up the subject of Zionist history and to raise the
question of the legitimacy of Zionism itself and also the indoctrination
which is being perpetuated in this country. Deir Yassin was the place
of a massacre in 1948 in which around 150 Palestinians were killed by
right wing Zionist troops during the so-called War of Independence. This
was a really traumatic event in our eyes, but here its regarded
as an isolated event, an unfortunate mistake by an extreme group which
doesnt represent Zionist ideas.
To give people on the outside a better perspective on things, maybe you can say something about the origins of the Israeli punk scene?
F: Punk has been going on here since 78/79 but it was totally a fashion thing which revolved around getting clothes and records from abroad. There werent too many bands then or even in the early 80s, probably less than a handful and they never released anything. Putting out material was secondary, the most important thing was the fashion and hanging out in nightclubs, rather than wanting to communicate or having something to say. Somehow in the late 80s, there were some people who were very influenced by English anarcho-punk and they tried to create something with a message. There formed an anarcho-pacifist group and wanted to politicize the scene. They tried for a while and then it died out in 89/90. But in 92 there was suddenly something of a mini punk explosion in Israel. There was Nekhei Naatza, the band I used to be in, and a few others. in 93 it got huge with about 20 - 30 bands, shows every week, tons of people coming to the gigs. It was really incredible, we were really surprised by it. There were 400 people coming to the shows, it was the strongest underground scene in Tel Aviv since the New Wave trend in the mid-80s. It was mostly ignored by the media, which was good. It died out pretty soon though, in 94 and 95 most of the bands broke up, there werent any gigs. The rock club where we used to have the shows closed down. I think most of the people just went to the army. Theres a cycle with people around 15 or 16 getting into the scene and dropping out again when theyre 18 and get drafted into the army. There was only a handful of people that didnt go into the army and stayed with it, like Nekhei Naatza and Useless ID. there were some other bands that wanted to take a more commercial direction, changing into an alternative rock type sound.
In all this time, where did people get the information on what was happening in punk in the rest of the world? Because of the Geographical isolation, its not like you can check out whats going on in your neighboring countries. so how were people able to follow what was going on elsewhere? I have the impression that in the early days the scene was more influenced by English bands and in the recent years that changed to American influences.
F: In Israel, the British influence was definitely very strong. In the mid 80s the first hardcore records started turning up. There was a shop in Tel Aviv that carried a bunch of punk and hardcore records. My brother and I, who started Nekhei Naatza, were living in this extremely isolated Kibbutz in the North of Israel and we didnt really know anyone. I discovered punk by reading magazines and then ordering records. We were very influenced by the European scene and old style US hardcore. in the beginning, there were a few fanzines, first from England and then from the US and Europe. We tried to order zines from all over the world. Most people back then had this idea that punk had died in the rest of the world and that Israel was like the last place on earth where it existed. People were really surprised in the early 80s to discover that things were going on outside of Israel.
Was there a specific reason why there was such an explosion in the early 90s?
F: I think one of the most important reasons was this record shop that carried punk music opening in Tel Aviv. They also carried zines like MRR and Flipside. We made our first fanzine and we didnt know how to distribute it so we took it there and people who saw it got in touch with us. all of a sudden, there were 3 bands and people were coming to check them out. There was a punk band of Jewish Russian immigrants that we didnt even know existed.
You mentioned the army before. From what I can tell, it seems to be very important here. Maybe you can explain how you feel about the situation.
J: Since the day you are born, youre indoctrinated into the Zionist way of thinking. Everybody here has to go to the army for 3 years [technically its a few months shorter now, not that it matters - ed], so people think that if they dont go, they wont get a job, wont have friends, theyll be outcasts in society, theyll have no future. so when people are teenage rebels they want to rebel a bit but theyre not very conscious. Theres lots of kids that say: Ill have to join the army soon but until then, Ill be a punk!. when they get out after 3 years of Zionist brainwashing, its pretty clear that they wont be punks anymore. Thats the main problem for the scene here. Youll have hundreds of kids into punk, then theyll go off to join the army at 18, never to be seen again. Then youll have a new wave of kids and the same thing will happen, its an endless cycle. So now the main thing is we try to do is to convince people not to go to the army. We didnt really understand why people were not staying in the scene. Its so obvious that you shouldnt go to the army if you pretend to be anti-authoritarian, shouting Crass and Dead Kennedys lyrics. It should be obvious but a lot of people did. They continued listening to Crass while they were in the army. so now we try a different approach. We put out one issue of our zine totally devoted to why you shouldnt go into the army, giving advise on how to avoid it, practical information. It made a big impact and changed a lot of peoples views. Many people were already vegetarians through punk but not too many people made the connection of being against the army or religion. Making songs against the police is very nice because everybody hates them, but when it comes to things more close to home like refusing military service and denouncing Judaism, many people got scared. But that has changed now, a lot of the younger punks are now refusing the army.
Youve been talking about propagating not going into the army, maybe you can explain how you managed to stay out of it even though its mandatory.
Being a male in Israeli society, the only way not to join the army is
basically mental reasons. You dont have a conscientious objector
status here, you cant do civil service or something like that. You
have to pretend to be crazy or otherwise go to prison.
You were already saying how Israeli society is dominated by Zionist and religious ideas. How do you think punk fits into this society? Did looking like a punk have a serious shock value?
In the beginning it was. But now, with all this techno trance culture
you have a lot of people pierced, having dyed hair, etc. Its all
Im sure Crass would be proud to know of such devoted fans! HaHa!
Coming back to what I was saying, of course even Crass can be commodified
to a certain extent. in this society, even social uprisings can be commodified
into social democratic garbage. You can have Che Guevara on T-shirts but
it doesnt mean anything anymore. But in Israel, they cant
deal with different ideologies because of the authoritarian manner of
I sometimes wonder though whether punk isnt as much cultural imperialism as a lot of other Western things. This region doesnt really have too much of a rocknroll tradition if you know what I mean.
I think we managed to shape it into something that is relevant in Israel.
With Nekhei Naatza and this band, were only speaking about local
issues. Were avoiding more international problems because it would
be totally stupid for us to try to get involved in that when weve
got so many problems here that need to be dealt with.
Do you think that for punk to take root in a country, it has to be based on middle class teen rebellion? A lot of so-called third world countries have developed punk scenes in the 90s and I think that might have to do with the emergence of a middle class in these countries. I don't want to make a big deal about it because this class bullshit is just silly. What I'm aiming at is that punk rock, in its essence, is a rebellion of bored, dissatisfied teenagers and if you don't have them, you won't have a punk scene. That's why it's probably impossible to have a punk scene in Lebanon or Syria. People have other problems besides boredom there.
F: I don't think it would be because of economic problems but because of cultural. In different cultures, this type of music will be totally unlistenable because there wasn't a sort of "evolution" in popular music which made people's ears "ready" for this kind of music.
What I find interesting is that there's been an increase in the number of places where there is a punk scene. But because of MTV and this whole process of turning the world into a village, it is possible to bring a certain musical style and the fashion that goes along with it to every single corner of the world. Nowadays, everybody sees the same program so that's why the MTV kids in Berkeley look exactly the same as the MTV kids in Israel. So it's turning everything into a bland mush.
F: Yeah, I think you're right. In the early 80s there were punk scenes in places like Brazil or Finland and whatever and although they were doing similar stuff you could distinguish between the different national traits that the music had. You could speak about a Brazilian punk sound or a Dutch one. The influences were in some cases the same but they all had their local touches. Now all the bands sound like Rancid or Green Day.
You mentioned the problems you can get into when you advocate dissenting views in this country. Apparently, Nekhei Naatza had some trouble with religious people.
Yeah, it was this really weird story. There was some sort of review of
the Nekhei Naatza 7" in a strange rabbinic newspaper, they had a
whole feature on us. They were trying to show how the Israeli youth are
falling prey to decadence and going down the drain. So this one rabbi
wanted to sue us and he wanted to drag us through all these major TV talk
shows. We got all these phone calls to appear on TV but we refused because
we didn't want to turn it into a whole media circus. We wouldn't have
had any control. With the Anarchist Federation, the secret police tried
to infiltrate the group but because it's such a small country everybody
knows each other, so these spies were sticking out like a sore thumb.
When that didn't work ,they tried other methods like harassing us, calling
us to the headquarters for questioning. They didn't have anything against
us legally, but they were trying to scare us. Because we have really strong
views, we really have to be intelligent about it. We have to reach the
people we want to reach but make sure our stuff doesn't fall into the
wrong hands. If we get sued or victimized by the police, there will be
no one to help us. There are no sympathetic liberals or the No Censorship
Defence Fund to help us out. We would just stand alone against the state
and we really don't have any possibilities to fight back. All the liberals
will say we're too extreme and leave us to our fate. We really have to
watch our backs, we're really doing things on a DIY underground scale,
daring to be more open little by little. We need to be sure that we're
stepping on safe ground.
You were telling me that you want to try to get bands from abroad to play here.
F: Yes, I think we've reached a certain point in the development in the DIY scene here. We've already had a band from California called Your Mother a few years ago. They just came over, paid for their tickets and played a few shows. Back then, there wasn't even a scene which could provide them with much. Only in the last two years, we've been doing DIY gigs more or less regularly. Now I think we're really to invite bands and be able to pay for their plane tickets. We'll be trying this pretty soon with Code 13 when they come to Europe. The idea is to get them a cheap flight from one of the major European airports like Amsterdam, London, Frankfurt or Paris. They can play 2 shows here and we'll cover the cost of their tickets. They stay here for a few days and then continue their tour through Europe. We would also like to do this with other bands, not only from the US but from Europe. Unfortunately, we can't afford any bands that have more than 4 members. But if anybody is interested, get in touch with me.
What kind of plans do you have for your own band in the future?
F: Well, we have recorded some material and will be trying to get it onto vinyl as soon as possible. We're also planning to tour the US and Europe in Summer/Fall of 1999. If you can help with arranging gigs, please get in touch!