Orit Arfa pole danced round a bulldozer while singing "it's our land we can do what we want". We asked her what she was thinking.
Earlier this month, thousands of protestors from across the West Bank came together in opposition to the Prawer Plan, a proposed Israeli law that would lead to the displacement of up to 70,000 Bedouin living in the Naqab. After further construction in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, settlements now house 560,000 Israelis. Peace talks brokered by John Kerry in the summer were doomed before they started. Basically, peace in the Middle East is as fucked as it ever was.
Yet perhaps the most heinous act of provocation came from Orit Arfa, an American settler in Israel who performs Zionist versions of recent pop hits. When Alicia Keys was urged by the Palestinian Civil Society for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions to cancel gigs in Israel and Stevie Wonder faced criticism for playing a pro-Israel gala in LA, Orit Arfa performed pro-Israel Weird-Al-Yankovich-cum-Rebecca-Black versions of their songs "This Girl Is On Fire" (which became "Israel Will Inspire") and "I Just Called To Say I Love You" ("We Just Called To Say We Love Israel"). Clever, right?
Her latest video has received more attention than most. It's a Miley Cyrus parody called "Jews Can't Stop", filmed around the West Bank. The video features Arfa and her friends giggling as she mimes lines like "If they want Jews to leave home, can I get a hell no!" and "We're going to fight all night till we get our birthright," while dry humping a bulldozer and poll dancing on a sign claiming this to be the promised land.
It finishes on the refrain "can't you see it's we who own the land" and "it's our land we can do what we want."
Unsurprisingly, there's been a lot of negative response to the video with New York Magazine calling it "the worst Miley Cyrus parody yet" and one Jewish culture site calling it simply, "the worst video ever made."
I spoke to Orit to find out whether she had a filming permit to hang out in that stream.
Noisey: Hi Orit. So you’ve had over 100,000 views on Jews Can’t Stop. Why do you think it’s made such a big impact?
Orit: Well, I thank the radical leftists for pushing it and calling me names. It makes a lot more people watch it, their comments are so ignorant and so hateful that they’ve made themselves into the fool.
Indeed, some people have said it’s the worst video ever made.
They’re trying to bully people into not hearing what I have to say. You know in the video you see a woman being stoned, and I actually think it’s a form of stoning. I have an opinion that may be different to theirs, I’m a writer, I write things, I have complex thoughts about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Where is their outrage that Hamas has videos saying “death to the Jews”? Why aren’t they up in arms when there are calls for genocide in videos by Islamic totalitarian groups? It’s kind of sad.
So are you the victim here?
It’s hate, and they’re threatened by me, I don’t know what it is, there’s something about me that threatens them. What is your interest in talking about it by the way? Because all of the other papers abroad they don’t talk to me, they just slam me.
We're a music site and you made a provocative music video. There were certain things in the song that I thought we could talk about. And I saw in a video (where you pretended a beer bottle was a microphone) that you moved from LA to the West Bank and I wondered if you were encouraging other American Jews to do the same.
Are you Jewish by the way?
Am I Jewish? Err, what do you think, my name’s Samuel Wolfson...
Not that I judge, cause actually part of my point in this video is to challenge religious control: so taking secular images with religious connotations and placing them against a backdrop that is very much associated with the Bible. And, um, I’m challenging all of the different boxes that people are in.
Why did you think making a parody video of a Miley Cyrus song was the right way to do that?
It was just a fascinating idea to me as I love the song so much. I live in Ariel which is a city that is constantly under boycott out of ignorance and it’s frustrating - it’s like, “leave us alone!” The international community wants to tell us where we can build. They call us illegal. What’s illegal about Jews building on an empty plot of land? Ariel was completely empty. I have no problem with the Arabs building homes here in the West Bank, or in Israel. Since when is a home a crime? I don’t want people to suffer, I don’t want Palestinians to suffer, but I think they oppress themselves. The Palestinian authority is very corrupt and very oppressive.
I don’t know about that. In your song you sing “can’t you see it’s we [Israel] who own the land” but, even before you even get into the border conflict, there are a lot of areas in the West Bank, Ariel included, where there is Palestinian privately owned land - around 32% of settlements are built on land which is private property.
I’m a big believer in private property, I actually believe that the land should be privatised and not be in the hands of any government. I believe it should be in the hands of the people who make it prosper and then let those issues be settled in court. Ok there was a mistake and maybe Israel built a home in an area that was later proven to be private property although I know that the Supreme Court and the government of Israel has done due diligence and tried to just build on land that has no proof of ownership. I don’t know all of the situation and yeah we’ve created walls because we’re getting so caught up in separating each other instead of really allowing a dialogue with each other.
But does making a song like this, claiming “it’s our land we can build what we want” really open a dialogue? Doesn’t that close off the dialogue by saying: this is ours and that's it. You sing: "we don't steal nothing from nobody".
I’m challenging the narrative of anti-Israel and people who are anti-Israel. People who are anti-Israel, they’re also anti-Jewish settlements in all of Israel. You see that from the comments in the Youtube video - they don’t say “Jews shouldn’t build in Judea and Samaria” they say “Jews get out Palestine”, well Palestine is all of Israel, and I’m challenging that narrative too. There are a lot of issues of who has the right to administer it and in terms of international law many legal scholars believe that Israel does have the authority to administer it and the view that there is another country called Palestine, that’s a myth.
It’s a myth that there is a country called Palestine?
There was never a country called Palestine. Palestine was a geographical location.
From the looks of the video you were mostly filming in the West Bank? In disputed territory.
Yeah I am, filming mostly in Judea and Samaria aka the West Bank yeah. But I think we’re getting so caught up in statehood and having a state of your own that we’re really losing sight of what a state will look like. Meaning if the Palestinians would like a state, why can’t Jews remain a part of that state and be citizens that contribute to the country?
Well, for one thing it doesn’t help that there’s a big wall that stops many Palestinians working in Israel or receiving crucial healthcare in Israel.
Um there are problems and I think they’re self-created, they’re self-created by Israelis and they’re created by Palestinians, and everyone has to take responsibility. Palestinians they have to start owning up to their contributions to the situation, which is violence, incitement of violence, hatred, holding onto this narrative that is going to kill them.
You think Palestinians are exaggerating their hardship?
Let me give you an example. Jews are all refugees, Israel is a haven for refugees, we’ve gone through horrible, horrible displacement and maybe we should tell the Palestinians not to let go of what they’ve done to us, but we’ve let go, and we’re building now. And the properness of forgiveness, after all the evil that has been done to the Jewish people. Should they learn from us? Or should we learn from them to hold a grudge forever? There’s a war here, and no-one wants war, let’s focus on building, you know “We Can’t Stop”, maybe Palestinians can’t stop building either. There’s just so much hate there that I think goes beyond politics.
Why do you think there is so much hatred?
Hatred of Jews is a big feature in Islam and I know there are varying interpretations and not everyone holds by the Jew hatred in the Qur'an but it’s there, in the scripture. I know I’m now going to get called an Islamophobe by saying that, because we’re all bullied into not saying anything negative about Islam, and I know that’s a serious problem in the UK as well. But, Hamas, if you read their charter it says “Get the Jews behind the rock and kill them”. I mean it’s so clear you see Hamas advocating genocide. Where is the outrage about that? It has nothing to do with land.
(I think the actual quote she is referring to is “The stones and trees will say, ‘O Muslims, O Abdullah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews")
Do you not think that people are outraged about Hamas though? There have been endless sanctions on Palestine from the US.
There are sanctions? I don’t know. I mean Hamas control Gaza, probably turned it into more of a shithole than it already is and Israel gets slammed all the time for treatment of Gazans. I don’t see Hamas getting as slammed as Israel, you know I don’t see the international sanctions. I don’t see international criticism as much as I see it on Israel. I think there’s a double standard. It’s the same with my video. It’s so funny I love how critics say that it’s the worst Miley Cyrus parody yet, have they seen the others?! I’m so flattered that they think my video has the possibility to damage a country. Like, thank you.
It does seem like a provocation where you’re dry humping a digger in disputed territory in the West Bank.
I didn’t realise this at the time. I didn’t think “woah that’s too much” but it feels like I’m drawing out peoples’ prejudices you know like it’s coming out, sucking out the perceptions that people have which is very interesting. I don’t mean everything so literally in the song, but the fact that they think that I mean everything so literally just means they’re so locked in their narrative and so locked in the narrative that they perceive we have.
So what would you say, “literally”, that you want people to take away from it, if anything?
Um stop the fighting, focus on building and it’s time to be tolerant of the Jews. Because what difference does it make if a Jew or an Arab builds a building in the West Bank if they do something good? I feel like it’s really racism to say a Jew can’t live here, it’s like saying…a Jew could have a plan to emigrate to London and live a good life. People stand against peace, I’m against these false constructs of peace- of peace on a piece of paper - peace happens between people and the act of throwing Jews out of their homes, which I experienced in Gaza. And that’s the subject of my book, and I’d be really grateful if you mentioned my book because I experienced what it’s like to have people moved from their homes. That’s an act of violence, that’s not an act of peace. I’m also tired of the international community butting in all the time, they don’t live here, you don’t know what it’s like you’re not going to live with the ramifications of the policies of your authority. I don’t see the international community meddling in any other country except this one.
Yes, in your song you sing “don’t take nothing from John Kerry” but in fact Israel takesbillions of dollars of aid from the US every year.
Of course I want peace but the meddling in terms of controlling where Jews can and can’t build and what the problems of that state are- that’s just not going to lead to peace.
So you want Americans out completely, their money, their bases, everything, just let Israel be Israel.
Umm. Well I’ve given some thought on the financial issue I haven’t really ironed out my thinking on that but I do think Israel has to act in their best interests, and should not be blackmailed or be under the hold of any country because they get money. I believe in Israel we have to be independent citizens to the extent that in some ways we’re in a strange alliance with the Palestinians I mean we’ve been here together, sometimes I see them as fellow citizens to a certain degree, they’re victims too in all of this.
Orit’s book, The Settler, is available now.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @SamWolfson
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