By Kai Teo
This is the true story of Firas (name changed for confidentiality), one of the pioneers of the Palestinian Psytrance scene, and how he used to cross the borders to Israel illegally just to attend Psytrance raves.
“They could build the highest walls between our nations, but no wall could stop music from uniting us as one.”
The mountains that stood between Firas’ backyard and Jerusalem were familiar ground to him and his friends. It was their playground, their childhood, their everyday lives. These were the mountains that the sun disappears behind when they watched the sunset with their families. And as kids, they could see no lines, no borders.
But as they grew up, they were warned not to cross those mountains, for they belonged to another country, and they could be thrown in prison if they got arrested.
The harsh reality had stolen their favourite playground from them, and some of his friends had stopped venturing out too far into the mountains. But nothing could stop Firas from being curious about what’s on the other side. He knew the risks, but he didn’t quite give a fuck about them. To him, encountering a soldier on patrol would have been a game of hide-and-seek, except that this time, if they catch you, you’re fucked.
“We used to go over there to buy CDs of big electronic DJs like Tiesto and Paul Van Dyk, and then come home to share them with other friends.”
Then one of Firas’ friend, a Palestinian who holds an Israeli citizenship after the area he lived in became Israeli territory, told them about something called a rave.
“It was like a big what-the-fuck, we have clubs here in Bethlehem just like those in Sweden. You know, drinks, smokes, mainstream techno music and stuff, max 300–400 people. But to party together with 5,000 people? It was a whole new frontier.”
And so they gathered a small group of friends, crossed the border through their familiar mountain passes, and attended a rave in Israel for the first time in their lives.
“We spoke English to blend in, we didn’t want people finding out that we were in the country illegally.”
The festivals proved to be an instant hit with Firas and his friends. They loved the pulse of Psytrance, they revelled in the friendly atmosphere of the festivals, and they kept going back for more.
The bigger festivals with even bigger names such as Infected Mushroom, Perfect Stranger, Ace Ventura, and Skazi, were mostly held during the public holidays. And it was these days that border security was extremely tight and Firas and his friends had to be extra careful.
“I saw my buddies being arrested in front of my eyes, just about 80 metres away from where I was hiding. You know, we literally had a high price to pay, when all others needed to do was to buy a ticket.”
The discovery of psychedelic substances also helped them see the genius behind Psytrance music. And their love for the genre, combined with the surge of love and joy and unicorns and spaceships, became a powerful formula for helping to bridge the gap between the people of the two nations.
At the raves, they became more open with their nationality and were delighted that many Israeli ravers welcomed the Palestinians with open arms and more importantly, open hearts.
“Those who have truly explored the realms of psychedelics, or those who refuse to be blinded by what the governments and media have been telling them, see no point in our conflict,” Firas recounted passionately.
He continued, “The fight has nothing to do with the common people. All of us, Israelis and Palestinians, are victims. It’s an unfair game for the rich and powerful, and we, the people, are the losers.”
All walls that separated the people had been broken down on the dance floor. Because when the music peaked and the heavy beats dropped, no one remembered the unimportant stuff like nationalities and languages and religions. They were all one, and they wanted to do was to dance and be fucking happy.
“The wall made us think that all Israelis were fucked up soldiers with no compassion, and made them see all Palestinians as terrorists. We grew up believing that. But at the raves, we truly understood what a load of bullshit that was.”
Some of the Israelis Firas met even apologised for what happened. Even though all of them had to serve the army, not all of them felt great doing that. To Firas, the unity he felt on the dance floor was a beginning of something special – a new generation of human beings who are now more aware of the real situation and are willing to see change, and seek peace.
A few years on, Firas and his small gang of cosmonauts were attending raves in Israel regularly and they were openly loved and accepted as “The Palestinian Ravers”, well, not in those exact words, but yea, you know what I mean.
Despite that, Firas told me that every party that he attended in Israel, only 2/3 of his mind was really having fun. The other 1/3 was in fear. And you’d know that fear can instantly escalate into a gripping paranoia at these festivals, especially if you’ve been on any form of substances. “Every policeman we saw, there was a potential of us being arrested.
And it was that fear that came true in 2010, when they tried getting into a festival called Global Warming, in Afula, 95 km from Tel Aviv.
“Everything was as normal, but the moment we got to the entrance, even though we got our tickets, we were suddenly treated like we were at a border checkpoint."
They were asked to step aside, their IDs were checked (they didn’t have permits, of course), and were treated like a bunch of terrorists by the event organisers. They were denied entry on the spot “simply because they were Palestinians.”
With Raja Ram, the forefather of Psytrance, playing in the background, their denial of entry was mind-blowingly infuriating. They decided to set up camp just outside the festival, at the parking lots, and created their own dance floor, with the distant beats echoing in the air, intent on not missing out on any gig..
“Well, we had come all the way, so might as well make the best out of it. We were fucking pissed off. And we figured that since we weren't welcomed there, we'd start our own shit."
This frustration, fear, and rejection, was the catalyst for the birth of Psytrance in Palestine. And here's what it looks like:
“We started making our own music and organised our own parties. First, it was 50 people, then 250, then 750, then 900. We’ve not seen 1,000 ravers at our parties, but we’re hopeful.”
In Palestine though, getting high was not easy, especially acid. The psychedelics had to be smuggled in from Israel. And even the Israelis who were selling the LSD would stop their supply if they knew that their runners would be taking them to Palestine.
“It’s as if they didn’t want us to discover this secret, they didn’t want to give us entry into the world of psychedelics, just like how they denied us entry into their country.”
The mainstream culture in Palestine is also not quite ready to accept the high BPMs and the "We are one" messages of Psytrance. Drugs are still a taboo in the country, and punishment is harsh. But hey, 1,000 is a fucking big start.
“Today, Mukti Project is one of the most popular Psytrance festivals organised by Palestinians, high in the Galilee mountains, in previously Palestinian land now occupied by Israeli forces.”
The last Mukti Project saw DJs from Austria and Germany sharing the stage with the local psytrance musicians, with full power performances and décor. The music that the ravers danced to is an eclectic mix of the signature Israeli sound, infused with influences from traditional Arabic instruments and other unique touches.
The atmosphere is empowering, and most importantly, very hopeful. Many Israelis are even coming to party with them, and see Palestinian Psytrance festivals as less mainstream, with little advertising and less commercially driven.
That’s the thing: many of us have heard, or even said the phrase, “Music unites us”. But really, how many of us have truly felt this firsthand? Firas’ story and the birth of Psytrance in Palestine is a shining example of this. It shows us that the true human spirit is stronger than all the forces that separate us. It shows us that we can all be moved, regardless of nationality, skin colour or last names. And music, plus some wisdom, is just one of the many ways we can start a revolution, or at least, change someone’s misunderstood view.
Not only music, but sports, art, literature, and everything else, can become tools to help make the world a better place. And by sharing this story, we hope that we can inspire others to do good with whatever you’re good at, and also to not be an asshole.
Contact us here if you’re a musician, artist or just an avid raver and would like to be part of the next Mukti Project. We’d try to hook you up.