Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Palestinians Celebrate “Arab Idol” Winner Mohammed Assaf.

Palestinians watch the performance of Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf, a contestant in a regional TV singing contest, on a large screen in the West Bank city of Nablus, Saturday, June 21, 2013. Palestinians relished a rare moment of pride and national unity Saturday after the 22-year-old wedding singer from a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip won “Arab Idol,” a regional TV singing contest watched by millions of people. (AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh).

“Arab Idol” Winner Returns to Palestine to Cheers and Unease. By Fares Akram. New York Times, June 25, 2013.

Gaza Palestinians give hero’s welcome to their “Arab Idol.” By Nidal al-Mughbrabi. Reuters, June 25, 2013.

Palestinians celebrate Mohammed Assaf’s Arab Idol triumph. By Harriet Sherwood and Hazem Balousha. The Guardian, June 23, 2013.

Sherwood and Balousha:

In the studio audience his [Assaf’s] mother, Intisar Abu Shammaleh, a maths teacher from the impoverished Khan Younis refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, waved a Palestinian flag above her hijab. “I am overwhelmed, feelings I cannot describe. Most importantly I am feeling proud, proud of the Palestinian people who showed they are alive,” she said.

Hundreds of thousands of people poured on to the streets to salute their new hero and to congratulate one another on Palestine’s new place in the popular culture order. Roads in Gaza City and Ramallah were clogged until the early hours of Sunday morning with cars honking horns and pedestrians waving flags and keffiyehs, traditional chequered scarves.

“Assaf is a small word but now it has a lot of meaning to us as Palestinians,” said Walid Kharoufeh, 21, in Ramallah. “This shows the world that, despite the occupation and the violence and the tears, we have a new symbol of peace and that music is a way to show the world that we are strong.”

In Gaza City, Sumyya Sumary, 56, watched the celebrations from the doorstep of her house. “I have never felt happy as I am tonight. Assaf has brought the happiness to Palestine. Palestinians deserve joy, and a rest from violence and killing.”

Assaf’s final performance, broadcast live to millions of viewers in the Arab world and the diaspora on Friday night, was a powerful, celebratory rendition of his signature song, Raise Your Keffiyeh, Raise It.

Mohammed Assaf: From Underdog to Idol. By Maysoon Zayid. The Daily Beast, June 25, 2013.


Millions of viewers in the Middle East and across the globe sat glued to TV sets, computer monitors, and jumbotrons waiting to see who would be crowned the next Arab Idol—and, boy, did they wait. MBC dragged the finale out for longer than the average Academy Awards broadcast before finally announcing the winner in the last two seconds to the captive worldwide audience. Enough suspense: Mohammed Assaf won.

The moment his name was announced something unprecedented happened, Palestinians spilled out of their houses, into the streets, and started dancing like Israel wasn’t watching. In Gaza, Ramallah, Lid, Nazareth, and Jerusalem, they partied like Palestine had been freed. Folks who lack the right to assemble, and are usually shot at, tear-gassed, and jailed when they do, had assembled and nobody dared stop them. Those stupid enough to try got punched in the nose and backed down. And when Assaf’s fans, living on Israel’s side of the wall, joined the festivities by the thousands to celebrate his win, they reminded their neighbors that they are not just vague Arabs. They are Palestinians, they’ve got talent, they are multiplying, and they are not going anywhere. Mohammed Assaf had united the Palestinians Israel had worked so hard to divide with walls, checkpoints, and oceans, with nothing but a dashing smile and the voice of an angel.

Mohammed Assaf is the Palestinian Gandhi the world has been looking for. After being crowned Arab Idol, one of his first statements was, “A revolution is not just the one carrying the rifle, it is the paintbrush of an artist, the scalpel of a surgeon, the axe of the farmer. Everyone struggles for their cause in the way they see fit. Today I represent Palestine, and today I am fighting for a cause through my art and the message I send out.”

This is a guy who grew up in one of the most impoverished, dangerous ’hoods in Palestine, and here he is publicly advocating nonviolence. Mohammed Assaf is not just an incredible singer, he is also an extremely articulate, inspiring, and politically savvy speaker. He reiterated over and over throughout the competition that was this was bigger than just him, about representing Palestine, its reality, its struggles, and its dreams. During his thank yous, he shouted out to everyone: the prisoners, the dead, Palestinians living anywhere and everywhere, and all the women who’ve proposed to him. He even remembered to thank the voters and admonish cellphone companies for fleecing his fans. Finally, he thanked his mom and dad because without them he simply wouldn’t be here. His father cheered, his mother wept, and the world saw that contrary to popular belief, Palestinians are not savages. They love their children and want to see them achieving their goals and staying alive.

Ms. Zayid is letting her idealism get the better of her. Mohammed Assaf is not Gandhi – or Mandela. These were mature men, with extensive experience in the ways of political organizing, who built up public support over many years of resistance to and engagement with their political adversaries. They spent years in prison. They did not become leaders of their people by winning a song contest. A singer like Assaf would not last a minute in the hornet’s nest of Palestinian politics. He may be a symbol of hope and unity for the Palestinians. He may offer a tantalizing vision of a peaceful, normal life beyond war, where children can grow up to have careers and fulfill their dreams. But he will not change the dysfunctional, genocidal politics of the Palestinians. Unfortunately, too many Palestinians are savages who want to perpetrate genocide against the Jews more than they love their children.

A Palestinian Wins Arab Idol. By Jonathan Mann. Video. CNN, June 23, 2013. YouTube.

Palestinians Joyous Over Arab Idol Win. eNCA, June 24, 2013. Video at YouTube.

Mohammed Assaf, Arab Idol Winner, Draws Thousands Upon Return to Gaza. By Karen Laub and Mohammed Daraghmeh. AP. The Huffington Post, June 25, 2013.


Mohammed Assaf singing the Palestinian nationalist song “Raise the Kaffiyeh.” Video. ArabIdol, June 21, 2013.

Arab Idol: The 27 original participants perform a medley from Les Miserables in Arabic. Video. ArabIdol, June 22, 2013. YouTube.