DES MOINES, Iowa – “My WhatsApp is going crazy” states Uriya Rosenman as the sun sets over snow-covered cornfields, corn silos and grazing cows near Des Moines, Iowa – the heartland of the Midwest. Meanwhile, the Middle East, or more specifically, Israel, is, once again burning. It’s 2 am in Tel Aviv and Rosenman’s friends are heading to the streets to protest Benjamin Netanyahu’s, firing of Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, following his opposition to the controversial judicial reform.
Rosenman, 33, an Israeli educator and “student of the universe” is traveling with Sameh “SAZ” Zakout, a Palestinian Rapper and actor on their first US Tour for their show Dugri: Talking Straight, along with peace-builder and tour manager, Bob Schlehuber and myself. I am filming their first US tour for an upcoming documentary (filming began in May 2021).
Dugri was initiated by Rosenman after he saw US Rapper Joyner Lucas’ Im Not Racist – a blunt, rap music video that dealt with racism in America, racial slurs and stereotypes. After watching the video, he thought, “how cool would it be to apply this model to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict?”
Rosenman, the grandson of a Six-Day War hero, who raised the flag on the Temple Mount, served as a Special Unit combat soldier in the IDF. After his army service, he realized the conflict is an ongoing cycle and it was time to challenge the narratives he grew up with
He soon realized he needed a Palestinian partner to keep the project authentic, and met Sameh Zakout, a Palestinian musician and actor from the mixed Arab/Jewish town of Ramle. Zakout was also influenced by his grandfather, a Communist leader who advocated non-violent resistance and was exiled from Isdud, known today as Ashdod during the 1948 War of Independence.
Zakout was skeptical at first. “I thought he was just another Jew looking for a token Arab to whitewash what is going on here,” he said, but soon realized that Rosenman’s initiative was different. He liked his honest, raw approach to talking, and more importantly listening to each other’s narratives. The two became friends and collaborated on their first video and Dugri was born.
Dugri: Talking Straight was released during the peak of the May 2021 riots which were hitting the mixed Arab-Israeli towns, and immediately went viral, reaching millions of hits. Since then, Dugri released two more music videos, and has a television show on Democratv. They have been traveling around Israel, presenting their story and ideas through their music and discourse.
A fresh take on the conflict
Today, Dugri has become “a new social movement,” offering a fresh take on the conflict: “A young, straightforward moderate approach, learning each other’s languages, acknowledging the dual narratives and traumas, forgiving wrongdoings of the past and collaborating for a mutually beneficial future.”
As their popularity spread, Dugri was offered a US Tour, which began in Miami last week and traveled to Denver, Boulder, Milwaukee, Kansas City and Minneapolis, with upcoming shows in White Plaines, New York, Washington DC, and Los Angeles.
As the two closely watch the news in Israel unfold both are concerned. Rosenman believes what is happening in Israel today is, “historic... People are starting to understand that the whole system that we inherited from previous generations is broken and that the government and the decision-makers cannot really be trusted. That is why we are investing in a grassroots movement because we believe in the people coming up with solutions rather than the government.”
Zakout says his community has more pressing concerns regarding democracy, but believes his community will be the ones who suffer the most if power is taken from the Supreme Court and given to a right-wing government.
Meanwhile, their tour has been well received by their American audience, playing at a variety of venues, including university campuses, music clubs, and JCCs – some shows filling hundreds of seats. After each show, they encourage the audience to challenge them with difficult questions.
As they travel through America, a country also divided in many ways, both have been surprised by the segregation, and racism they have come across on their three-week trip. Rosenman prefers to stay authentic and not highlight these issues in their story, but rather to tell their story and allow their audience to draw its own conclusions.
For tour and ticket information: http://dugriustour.com