How a Hamas Anthem Became a Hit in Israel
Why Israeli kids are singing ‘Up, Do Terror Attacks!’
A few days ago, I called a young relative who is serving in the Israeli air force and asked him: “Do you know that song—“Kum, Aseh Piguim”?
Without missing a beat, he said: “You mean that song that’s a hit all over Israel? The song that all my friends are singing all the time?”
“Yeah,” I said. “That song. I wanted to know if you can explain to me why they are singing it?”
What I actually meant to ask was: Can you please explain to me why all the young people in Israel are singing a song entitled “Up, Do Terror Attacks”—a song recorded and released by Hamas in Gaza, which repeatedly calls for killing or expelling all the Jews from Israel? But I didn’t have to say all that. He knew why I was asking.
“It’s because it makes us feel good,” he replied.
By then I wasn’t surprised. I had made several other calls, both to my own children and to other young people participating in different branches of the Israeli armed forces, and had gotten versions of this same answer from all of them: All their friends are singing it. It’s basically become the de facto anthem of the Israeli war effort. And they are singing it because it makes them feel good. The question, of course, is why Israeli soldiers, and their brothers and sisters at home, feel good to be singing a song about exterminating them and their families, along with the country they have sworn to defend.
I’ve been hearing about this song for a few weeks now, almost since the Hamas posted it on its YouTube channel around July 11. I first heard about it from my teenagers, who were laughing about this song Hamas had recorded in Hebrew and how terrible their pronunciation is. Then it turned out there was a video clip being passed around. But I really wasn’t interested. My son was fighting in Gaza. And my cousins. And the children of some of my closest friends. The casualties were mounting daily, and I was distracted by updates about soldiers in the field, and Israel’s shifting political situation internationally, and the rising tide of anti-Semitic protests in Europe and elsewhere. It wasn’t until dozens of Israeli soldiers had been killed, including soldiers in my son’s unit and other friends of my children, that it finally dawned on me how very bizarre it was that Israeli young people were continuing to sing this Hamas song. And making their own recordings of it and posting them on social media. And playing it at parties. And dancing to it at night clubs. And using it as the ringtone on their phones.
A few days ago, I finally sat down and watched the video clip and listened to the song. YouTube had removed it from the Hamas channel saying that it is incitement to hatred (it sure is), but there were still plenty of copies floating around. In the video clip, what you see is scenes of Hamas soldiers building missiles and launching them at Israel, Hamas training for attacks on Israeli soldiers, and Hamas frogmen swimming offshore and entering Israel from the ocean bed to attack Israeli communities (an actual terror scenario that played itself out in recent weeks in southern Israel). Interwoven among these are shots of the twisted wreckage of burned out Israeli buses and cars—images not from the present war, but from earlier bombings and mass murders of Israeli civilians over the past fifteen years.
Superimposed on these images, the words “Death to Israel” are flashed time and again in large, red Hebrew letters.
While all of this is going on, what you are listening to is a catchy Mizrahi-style (that is, Middle Eastern) pop band singing the song “Up, Do Terror Attacks!” in a peculiar Arabic-accented Hebrew that you have to struggle to follow. But even on a first hearing, there are certain phrases that come through quite clearly—“eliminate all the Zionists,” “burn bases and soldiers,” “a country of weakness and delusion,” “demolish her down to her foundations,” “exterminate the nest of cockroaches,” “turn their world into a scene of horrors,” “they are being expelled and we are going to stay.” And of course the refrain, returning time and again: “Up, do terror attacks!”
When the song was first released, there was much of it that Israelis couldn’t understand. Partly, this is because the Gazans doing the singing can’t pronounce all the letters in the Hebrew alphabet. So a crucial word like piguim (the Hebrew word for “terror attacks”) comes out as biguim—a nonsense word that doesn’t mean anything at all in Hebrew. Imagine a song in English that calls dozens of times to mount horrific “terror attacks,” but in each case uses the expression “terror aggacks” instead, and you get the idea. The effect is a bit like the priest in The Princess Bride who keeps trying to get his audience to understand the sanctity of “mawwiage.”
As if this weren’t enough, many of the Hebrew phrases used in the song are ornate to the point of being incomprehensible to young Israelis. I asked one of the soldiers I talked to for examples, and he immediately began rattling off verses from the song by heart to make his point: “Avad alav hakelah venilach [‘Its time is past, it is polluted’],” he said to me. Where did they get those words? Venilach? What kind of a word is that? I mean it’s Hebrew and everything. But no one talks like that. It’s like they were sitting there and looking up words on Google Translate.”
So “Up, Do Terror Attacks!” began its phenomenal rise in Israel as something people could only half understand. But it didn’t stay that way for long. Almost instantly, Israeli soldiers and their brothers and sisters at home began collaborating to try to piece together the lyrics. Versions were posted and then counter-versions, complete with Talmudic disputes over the intended meaning of this or that verse, until a consensus finally emerged as to what Hamas’ songwriters were in fact saying. Here’s my translation based on the current state of the online scholarship:
Up, do terror attacks,
Rock them, inflict terrible blows,
Eliminate all the Zionists,
Shake the security of Israel!
Aim to make contact with the Zionists,
To burn bases and soldiers,
Shake the security of Israel,
Reveal volcanic flames of fire!
A country of weakness and delusion,
When it comes to war, they cannot hold out,
They blow away like spider’s webs,
When they meet the valiant!
Shake the security of Israel,
Set the heart of her [i.e., Israel] on fire like spider’s webs,
Demolish her down to her foundations,
Exterminate the nest of cockroaches,
Expel all the Zionists!
The hearts of the Zionists, each one turns,
In a different direction, and does not identify,
They are frightened by death, and they run to hide,
Behind walls and in reinforced rooms!
It is an illusion, it will not succeed,
Its time is past, and it is polluted,
Gone, like mice in a parched field,
Get close then open fire, all at once!
Rock them, now, multitude of missiles,
Turn their world into a scene of horrors,
Burn into their minds a great miracle:
That they are being expelled, and we are going to stay!
This is pretty extreme stuff. Remember, we are not talking about the private initiative of some nut with some studio time. This song was released by the current government of Gaza. It calls for laying waste to Israel down to its foundations. And it alternates between proposing that the Jews of Israel (“Zionists,” as the song calls them) be exterminated like cockroaches, and that they be expelled from their country. It’s a little dizzying to think that this unblushing call to genocide—to killing me, my family and everyone I know—was written, recorded, and released by a government in power 50 miles from my house here in Jerusalem. But it is what it is.
Before “Up, Do Terror Attacks!” became an instant sensation in Israel, it already had an impressive history as an Arabic-language single produced by the military arm of the Hamas back in 2012. That recording has been played millions of times in the Arab world (here’s one link to it with more than 1.5 million hits). And I suppose it was the enthusiastic reception of the Arabic version that goaded the Hamas leadership into thinking they had something really good to hit the Israeli public with in Hebrew. After all, why shouldn’t Israelis get it through their heads that countless Arabs in Gaza and throughout the Middle East are thinking quite a bit about exterminating Jews these days? If the goal is to “turn their world into a scene of horrors,” then letting the Jews know just what their neighbors are singing about could certainly contribute to achieving this aim.
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