Israeli educator Uriya Rosenman had an idea for a project, and he thought he was going to have a 30-minute meeting with a skeptical Sameh “Saz” Zakout, a Palestinian rapper and artist.
“It became three hours, and two and a half years or three years since we are best friends,” said Rosenman.
The project became DUGRI, which means “straightforward” in both Hebrew and Arabic, and has become a platform for the duo to spread music, storytelling, and a brutally honest and open discussion, connecting the story about the formation of DUGRI to the current reality and potential future of Jews and Arabs in Israel and Palestine.
Rosenman and Zakout will be in Minneapolis for the Harry Kay Leadership Summit on March 27 at the Metropolitan Ballroom in Golden Valley. The event is free, but registration is required. The duo’s stop in the Twin Cities is part of a 16-city, 19-day tour of the U.S.
“The upcoming Harry Kay Leadership Summit is an annual community-wide event that hosts a thought leader to speak to our community about a topic that is timely and relevant to our local and global Jewish community,” said Lauren Kaplan, the director of the Harry Kay Center of Leadership Excellence. “With DUGRI’s straight talk and popularity, along with engagement opportunities like these, we can help the community understand both sides, and the Israel they don’t see in the news or on the Internet.”
Harry Kay Center of Leadership Excellence is a program of both the Minneapolis Jewish Federation and St. Paul Jewish Federation.
“This event aligns perfectly with MJF’s Israel Center’s mission to bring Israel to the community and create programming to build solidarity between the Twin Cities Jewish community and Israel,” said Eilat Harel, the senior director of community impact & engagement at Minneapolis Jewish Federation. This is an opportunity to hear and learn from and about the different narratives which exist in Israel.”
The world’s introduction to DUGRI was the video Let’s Talk Straight, and has gotten more than 200,000 views on YouTube and a lot of support from the people they meet.
“From day one when we released the [music] video, most of the messages that we got from people, or [those who] recognized us in the street … it was honestly a lot of love messages and support,” Zakout said. “Most of them said ‘finally, finally, we hear two young people say what a lot of people really think.’”
Zakout said the video helped raise awareness of people speaking about the other side without really knowing. “So this ignorance makes them say ignorant stuff,” he said.
Rosenman wrote an early iteration of the song based on Joyner Lucas’s viral video I’m Not Racist, a powerful video that showcases the racism and tensions between white and Black Americans.
“It was such a powerful artistic installation,” Rosenman said. “This was so straightforward. And it got me inspired to do an Israeli version.”
The various dichotomies of Israeli society left him uncertain where to start: left-wing/right-wing, religious/secular, or Mizrahi/Ashkenazi. He said the most interesting rift to him was the Jewish/Arab one.
“Very soon, I understood that I didn’t know much about the extremes of both sides,” he said. “In a two-year process, I conducted 30 interviews, meeting Arabs and Jews across the country and asking very blunt tough questions. That was when I understood that it has the potential to reach the hearts and minds of many people. But without an Arab partner, this project would never be authentic.”
As a duo, their authenticity can’t be argued with, so much so that Zakout doesn’t take any grief for collaborating with a Jew.
“Me and Uriya are unique in what’s going on right now,” Zakout said. “We’re the only people who really speak dugri. We don’t sell lies or [BS] to people. I wasn’t criticized for being a sellout or something because I really said stuff that Arabs and Palestinians were shy or afraid to say.”
Zakout raps: “I come from a diverse family, some of us celebrate Ramadan and some of us decorate a Christmas tree, the older I get the more I see all humans as one, no matter what is your religion we all should be free.”
It’s a message they both try to put out to the world, even if Rosenman knows some aren’t buying.
“Some students would see me as somebody who represents Israel, and the troubling stuff the IDF does to Palestinians; we’re expecting some backlash,” he said. “I can communicate my opinions very openly. I try to encourage and open the hearts and minds of the audiences I meet, to believe in a mutually beneficial future, and to understand that we are manipulated by people controlling our lives and profiting from this conflict.”