Lena Odgaard has been a regular contributor to the American independent radio station, Free Speech Radio News (FSRN) since January 2013. Additionally, she has reported for international outlets including Radio France International (RFI) and Monocle24. 

Radio in Danish

Gaza's first DJ

June 29, 2016 | RFI

GAZA CITY - It’s been dubbed ‘the world’s largest open air prison - For over two decades a wall has surrounded the Gaza Strip and severely limited the population’s ability to move freely. But it wasn’t always like this. Among Gaza’s older population, many dream of a time when they could work in Israel. Even in sectors unfamiliar to the Palestinian culture. One of these is Gaza’s first DJ. 

61-year old Waleed Abu Abdo sits on an old couch in a small, dark shop. On the street outside cars and trucks pass by. They probably don’t notice the old, faded sign above the shop reading ‘DJ Waleed’. But Waleed doesn’t need a flashy sign. People know him anyways – as Gaza’s very first DJ.

“I became professional in Tel Aviv,” he says.

Like many Gazans, Waleed worked in Israel in the 1970’s and 80’s. He worked at a hotel, which also had a nightclub, and he clearly remembers the day that changed his life.

WALEED: “One day there was a birthday party at the night club. The DJ didn’t show up and my boss asked if I could do it. At first I was scared because I didn’t know how to but then he told me to get started.

The party was a success and Waleed was asked to continue.

WALEED: So I played and the people throwing the party was so surprised seeing an Arab, a Palestinian from Gaza. But they told me I was better than the normal DJ.

Waleed started working as a DJ at several clubs in Tel Aviv before returning to Gaza to get married in 1982. A few years later, during the first Intifada he was in an Israeli prison for supporting the communist party. In prison he promised another inmate that he would DJ at his upcoming wedding once they were released.

WALEED: the guests were amazed that I played music without any stops.

Since then, Waleed has had a thriving business turning records at Gaza’s many wedding parties. But the political situation doesn’t make it easy. Due to the Israeli siege it is hard and expensive to get professional equipment. And after three wars in less than ten years, Gaza’s economy is on the brink of collapse and most don’t have much money to spend on weddings.

DJ’ing has now become a family business and Waleed goes to check up on his 27-year old son, Khaled, who is playing at a wedding nearby. Arriving at the wedding hall we meet the owner, Abu Heydi:

 “This is the best man working in stereo in Gaza – he used to work in Tel Aviv”

The wedding is segregated and Khaled is playing for the female guests. But he can’t be in the same room as them and has therefore set up his mixing table in a small room adjacent to the actual hall. From here he is informed about what is happening inside through a walkie-talkie.

It didn’t used to be like that, his father recalls.

WALEED: “Before, people would ask me to be with them. It’s a natural part of DJ’ing to see people. Every movement has its own music.

According to Waleed, Gaza became much more conservative after the militant Islamist group, Hamas, came into power almost ten years ago.

Waleed’s son Khaled started following in his father’s footsteps at the age of 12. Like most young people in Gaza he has never stepped foot outside the small coastal strip. But though the situation is getting more desperate, Khaled enjoys being able to give people a break to enjoy themselves.

KHALED: We make people happy. It’s a great job and it’s in my blood.

With youth unemployment in Gaza estimated at 60 percent, Khaled is also happy to have a job, he loves. He hopes to pass his skills on to his 1-year old son who is named Waleed after his grandfather.

Lena Odgaard reporting for RFI from Gaza.


Fleeing from rubble to rubble

May 19, 2016 | RFI

BET LAHIYA - In desperation to get away from shelling and shooting in war-torn places around the Middle East, a group of refugees have opted for a somewhat curios destination - Gaza. But fleeing one conflict to end up in another is, not surprisingly, not that easy.

New trade law could reverse 50 years of U.S. economic policy regarding occupied Palestinian territories

March 10, 2016 | FSRN

British private security contractor G4S announced Wednesday that the company will liquidate its operations in Israel after reporting a steep drop in annual profits. The multinational, which sells services and equipment to Israeli detention centers and West Bank checkpoints, has long been a focus of the BDS movement. But a new U.S. law, signed late last month by President Barack Obama, may complicate the economic shaming campaigns that have been gaining traction around the world.

The stated aim of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 is to remove unfair barriers to competitive U.S. trade, but the legislation also includes provisions designed to oppose boycotts and similar economic measures against Israel. While the bill passed without much controversy or coverage in the U.S., Lena Odgaard reports that its implications could mark a change in 50 years of U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

West Bank violence spreads to Gaza; Israeli airstrike kills young mother and toddler

Oct. 12, 2015 | FSRN

Tension continues to spiral in Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories.  After a week of growing unrest in the West Bank, the violence spread to Gaza where the Israeli military met week-end rocket fire with anairstrike — killing a pregnant mother and her 2-year-old daughter.  Monday another four stabbing attack attempts were reported in East Jerusalem.

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Gaza Strip youth express concerns about Hamas authorities restricting their political rights

October 5, 2013 | FSRN

GAZA - In the Palestinian Gaza Strip, young men and women complain that they feel targeted by the Hamas authorities for being too westernized. They say the authorities harass them because of their clothing, hairstyles or the music they like. Since there are no official laws against Western culture, youth and local NGOs say its intimidation and a way to silence criticism of the government.

Women in Gaza, facing restrictions in public activism, find outlet online

July 2nd, 2013 | FSRN

Palestinian activists in Gaza have been speaking out against a range of issues: the Israeli siege, the treatment of prisoners held in Israeli prisons and the Hamas-led government’s recent attempts to implement religious policies. But for women, the freedom to express themselves and engage in political activities is largely limited. In the conservative, male-dominated society it can be challenging  for women to take their voices to the street, but through social media they are finding other means.

Bus lines from West Bank to Israel criticized as move toward segregation

March 5, 2013 | FSRN

This week Israel launched two new bus lines for Palestinians from the West Bank working in Israel. According to the Israeli public transportation company, Afikim, the new buses are aimed at easing the lives of Palestinians. But International and Israeli human rights organizations have criticized the so-called “Palestinians-only” buses for being an attempt at segregating Palestinians and Israelis.

Ancient Palestinian village seeks UNESCO recognition as Israel plans barrier on site

January 24, 2013 | FSRN

The Palestinian Authority is preparing to submit an application to UNESCO recommending the nomination of the small, ancient village of Battir as a World Heritage Site. This would be the second World Heritage listing after a successful nomination of Bethlehem’s Church of Nativity last June. Located in the West Bank, Battir is known for its agricultural terraces and roman-era ruins. But Israeli officials plan to erect a barrier through the area, which cultural experts say would threaten this sensitive site.