October 19, 2005

Jericho's Echo

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The world of “punk,” ranging from clothing and hairstyles to the actual music, is often though of as intense, or at the very least, a little unorthodox. That being said, it is even more difficult to imagine punk existing in the political and cultural pressure cooker of Israel and the Middle East. Yet this is the subject of documentary maker Liz Nord’s film, Jericho’s Echo.

Nord, who has long been a punk music aficionado, is able to use her knowledge to document effectively the punk music scene. Additionally, being raised in a conservative Jewish household, Nord is able to somewhat understand the unique situation that her subjects face.

Nord highlights the still small, but thriving punk culture that exists in Israel. The band names featured appear like any other punk rock group, Useless I. D., Man Alive, Punkache, Smash4$ however a look closer reveals that these bands are belting out lyrics in Hebrew. It is these lyrics that often show the unusual situation that punk lives in Israel. Concerns about terrorism, religious culture, mandatory army service and an aching hope for a peaceful future that seems so far away all are expressed in their songs.

In the interviews with band members certain constant themes of adolescence emerge. Band members express their dissatisfaction with their government at times. In other instances they describe an inability to connect with family. Nord skillfully explores the relationship between a punk band member, decked out with piercings and tattoos and his highly conservative brother. At other moments in the interviews, the extraordinary setting of the band members lives is revealed. In one instance a band member sadly tells how one of their biggest fans died in a bus bombing. Unfortunately, most of the subjects express a weary numbness to the violence: “You get used to it. It happens just so often,” a band member recalls.

Another interesting aspect of adolescent life explored in the documentary is the mandatory military service required by all between the ages of 18 and 21. Some of the rockers interviewed actually chose to declare themselves mentally unfit or insane to avoid military service; other bands serve in the military and put on performances during their home leaves on the weekends. They describe how, if they choose to avoid military service, it is noted on their permanent identification and often can cause problems when they have to search for a job or other services.

Nord interviews punk bands whose members all have served in the military and are in the mid-20s, older than the majority of the other subjects. A noticeable divide in mentality can be observed in the non-veteran bands and their counterparts made of veterans.

However all the punk band members illustrate, whether it is in their lyrics or their interviews, a sense of hope and tolerance for the future. Many express sympathy with their Palestinian peers saying that the majority of the problems are a result of a small group of people and also acknowledge the existence of “bad Israelis” also. Almost all express a certain level of cynicism about their government but still hope for the “road map to peace” to succeed.

The film illustrates how punk music and culture have provided a certain escape for a group of youth who constantly closed in by hostile borders, conservative religion or a lack of opportunities. The film also carries with it an overarching theme of hope. Nord seems to argue that the Middle East’s best chances for peace lie in the independent and surprisingly tolerant and young (and left-leaning) members of Israeli society that make up open-minded societies like the punk movement.

Archived article by Mark Rice
Film Editor