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Israel being a country which isn’t really on people’s minds when it comes to international DIY hardcore punk, it’s 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 (Israel’s independence) war. During the war, between 100 and 150 of the village’s 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 don’t 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.

F: 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 it’s regarded as an isolated event, an unfortunate mistake by an extreme group which doesn’t represent Zionist ideas.
J: In a sense, it doesn’t even exist officially because nobody takes responsibility for it.
F: You have to keep in mind that people who later became central in Israeli politics were involved or knew about this. Just by using this name, we wanted to bring the subject into the public realm, to say that things aren’t the way they taught us. Just for a kid to ask us about the meaning of the name is already raising the issue again. I see the importance in that. Picking the name was not just for the purpose of shocking or provocation, it was meant to raise interest in this event.
J: I think the provocation aspect also shouldn’t be underestimated. We didn’t want to be a typical punk band with an obnoxious name like some bands in Israel called Breast Cancer or Obnoxious Rectum [actually, their name is ‘The shocking Rectum’ - ed]. That’s just being stupid and cliched. We want to have some sort of positive provocation to inspire interest.
F: There are things going on beneath the surface of this country. The way the Arabs were treated in this country, the Palestinians in the territories are being treated even now, is an issue the people here have to deal with. So this is our small effort to bring it up. Maybe some people who are into the music and don’t know much about politics can find a good starting point just by knowing the Deir Yassin happened.
J: Especially here in Israel, although there’s so much politics in everyday life, even in the punk scene there’s often a real disinterest in politics or things going on around you, so we try to force people to have an awareness of what’s going on. You can’t escape it and it won’t do much good if you pretend that it doesn’t exist. Most punk bands sing about things like getting drunk which is fair enough, you have that in every country but I think here the situation is so politicized, it’s shocking that punk here is so unpolitical. In theory it should be a real fertile ground for punk bands but most bands don’t want to dwell too much on the political events taking place here. All of our songs are very politically conscious, dealing with where we stand. We want to force those punks that don’t care about politics to at least deal with reality.

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 weren’t 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 weren’t 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. There’s a cycle with people around 15 or 16 getting into the scene and dropping out again when they’re 18 and get drafted into the army. There was only a handful of people that didn’t 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, it’s not like you can check out what’s 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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, you’re indoctrinated into the Zionist way of thinking. Everybody here has to go to the army for 3 years [technically it’s a few months shorter now, not that it matters - ed], so people think that if they don’t go, they won’t get a job, won’t have friends, they’ll be outcasts in society, they’ll have no future. so when people are teenage rebels they want to rebel a bit but they’re not very conscious. There’s lots of kids that say: “I’ll have to join the army soon but until then, I’ll be a punk!”. when they get out after 3 years of Zionist brainwashing, it’s pretty clear that they won’t be punks anymore. That’s the main problem for the scene here. You’ll have hundreds of kids into punk, then they’ll go off to join the army at 18, never to be seen again. Then you’ll have a new wave of kids and the same thing will happen, it’s an endless cycle. So now the main thing is we try to do is to convince people not to go to the army. We didn’t really understand why people were not staying in the scene. It’s so obvious that you shouldn’t 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 shouldn’t go into the army, giving advise on how to avoid it, practical information. It made a big impact and changed a lot of people’s 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.

You’ve been talking about propagating not going into the army, maybe you can explain how you managed to stay out of it even though it’s mandatory.

J: Being a male in Israeli society, the only way not to join the army is basically mental reasons. You don’t have a conscientious objector status here, you can’t do civil service or something like that. You have to pretend to be crazy or otherwise go to prison.
F: Well, I don’t think those are the only options. The way I see it is that they already have too many people in the army. A lot of people who join have to work in the bureaucracy. Only a part of the people do armed service, a lot of people are just part of the military mechanism. they don’t want people in there that will cause trouble. you need to find a way for them to have a reason to let you go, they need to stick to some sort of army procedure where they see that you will not fit into the army. It doesn’t have to be mental reasons, or even ideological. Sometimes it might not work. But I think most of the time, if you’re going to be honest that you have anarchist or anti-militaristic beliefs and if you really know what you’re talking about, I don’t think they will draft you.

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?

J: In the beginning it was. But now, with all this techno trance culture you have a lot of people pierced, having dyed hair, etc. It’s all become meaningless.
F: I think society can eventually absorb every different dress style but it’s much harder to absorb ideas. You can commodify all the superficial aspects of the culture, but they can never commodify the ideas.
J: Well, I guess they can. People buy punk records because they think they are getting the ideas for the price of an LP. Just because you know Crass lyrics by heart doesn’t mean that you understood them! There used to be all these people back in the day, they could sing “Bloody Revolutions” by Crass by heart and they were singing it with their uniforms on and their guns around their shoulders. It’s really weird, maybe they didn’t know English.

I’m sure Crass would be proud to know of such devoted fans! HaHa!

F: 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 doesn’t mean anything anymore. But in Israel, they can’t deal with different ideologies because of the authoritarian manner of society.
J: Anything that is not in tune with the militaristic culture is basically considered anti-Zionist. So, I think punk has more relevance here than almost anywhere else in the world. I think there’s more work to do for the punk scene than almost anywhere else. It’s funny for Swedish bands to be singing about war and religion. We actually live this nightmare, it’s not just a cliche'. I guess it’s relevant everywhere in the world because there’s injustice everywhere but for most punks it’s a really abstract thing. Anywhere else you can make a zine against the army and it probably won’t have much effect. Here you’ll have mainstream politicians talking about wanting to lynch us, that we should be interrogated by the police, that we should be put on trial, that we should be put away because we’re a menace to society. In a sense it’s crazy that we can be so few but have such a big effect in delivering our message.

I sometimes wonder though whether punk isn’t as much cultural imperialism as a lot of other Western things. This region doesn’t really have too much of a rock’n’roll tradition if you know what I mean.

F: I think we managed to shape it into something that is relevant in Israel. With Nekhei Naatza and this band, we’re only speaking about local issues. We’re avoiding more international problems because it would be totally stupid for us to try to get involved in that when we’ve got so many problems here that need to be dealt with.
J: Most of our songs deal with Israeli realities: against the settlers, against joining the army, the assassination of Rabin, the bombings in Lebanon. It’s funny, there’s so much to sing about here but we’re the only ones to do it.
F: We did a benefit show recently, to raise money for a Palestinian family that had their hose demolished by the Israeli army. I think to do something like that is a really good way to join punk and politics together.
J: We made a flyer that was passed out to everyone at the show, there were videos about the situation. We try to force people to deal with the situation, you can’t escape it. We’re not only trying to get people to become more aware, we also want to inspire them into action, because if we do something like that, anybody else can too.

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.

F: 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.
J: It needs some time also. When we did our zine against the army, somehow it reached the newspapers and got frontpage coverage. We were asked to appear on TV talkshows, pestered for interviews. But we refused because we knew we would have to go into this battlefield alone and we wouldn't have had a chance.
F: And it's easy for them, too. They won't be fighting a long battle or anything. They'll dig up some law nobody knows about and charge us with sedition. Or they'll just make up one for us. Or they'll just have the police hassle us...
Getting back to punk, maybe you can say a few words on what the current Israeli scene is like.
F: There are three types of people in the scene here. There are people into the whole California pop-punk thing. Then you have people into the whole international DIY scene which is the people in this band and some others. It's more political and also more into this raw, fast type hardcore. And the third faction are what we call the "mindless scene". It's quite a lot of people and they're into Exploited and other old English bands. Their whole scene revolves around getting drunk and some of the stuff that goes on there is really bizarre. They have their own club which is actually a disco, they don't have any live gigs anymore. They just play these dodgy Oi! compilations through the PA. The guy who owns the place is like the main guy in the scene, he has the club and he's the manager of the only bigger band from this scene. He gives a discount to girls who come in mini skirts and have their hair made up. It's just terrible. They even have these wet T-shirts contests there. It's really over-the-top, they have naked go-go girls dancing on the stage and the crowd is shouting Oi! Oi! Oi! It's just unbelievable! We don't have anything to do with these people. There's now all these young skinhead kids, really nationalist idiots.

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!