The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Gaza singer gives Palestinians a sense of pride and unity after winning 'Arab Idol' contest

  • Print
In this photo taken Friday, May 24, 2013, Palestinians walk by a poster of a Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf hanging on his family house in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip. The 23-year-old wedding singer from the refugee camp has given Palestinians are rare sense of pride and national unity after he reached the finale of

Enlarge Image

In this photo taken Friday, May 24, 2013, Palestinians walk by a poster of a Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf hanging on his family house in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip. The 23-year-old wedding singer from the refugee camp has given Palestinians are rare sense of pride and national unity after he reached the finale of "Arab Idol," a regional TV singing contest watched by millions of people. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Palestinians relished a rare moment of pride and national unity Saturday after a 23-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.

With the announcement of Mohammed Assaf's victory, fireworks lit up the sky over the West Bank and Gaza.

Thousands who had watched the final show on outdoor screens in the two territories broke into cheers and chants of "Palestine, Palestine." In Gaza City, young men on motorcycles waved Palestinian flags and women dropped candy from balconies.

Rasha Salman, 42, an engineer in Gaza City, was moved to tears. "He brought joy to our hearts and dried some of our wounds," she said. "For a few moments, he united us behind his cause, which is art."

The singer with the bright smile and warm voice had put Palestinian pride centre stage during the competition.

In a performance Friday, many in the audience in the TV studio in Beirut jumped to their feet when he struck up his signature anthem to Palestinian nationalism, "Raise the kaffiyeh."

The show, produced by the Saudi-owned MBC Group, was broadcast from the Lebanese capital. Now in its second season, this year's competition began in March with 27 contestants.

Assaf, who was born to Palestinian parents in Libya and grew up in Gaza's Khan Younis refugee camp, almost didn't get to compete. He says he had to plead with Hamas to let him leave Gaza, then bribe Egyptian border guards to let him enter the country en route to Lebanon. A fellow Palestinian gave up his slot during the audition phase because he believed Assaf had a better chance at winning.

As Assaf advanced in the competition, excitement and national pride kept building in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, the territories where the Palestinians one day hope to establish a state.

Rooting for the talented performer has allowed Palestinians to feel as one people, forgetting at least briefly their political and geographic split.

Gaza is cut off from the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which lie on the other side of Israel. Israeli travel restrictions over the past decade have deepened that separation. Since the Hamas takeover in 2007, Gaza has become more isolated, amid growing animosity between the Islamic militants and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who administers part of the West Bank.

Politicians have tried to latch on to Assaf's popularity.

The Western-backed Abbas called Assaf last month to congratulate him on his strong showing and later, in a statement, urged people across the region to vote for the singer.

After Assaf's victory, Abbas issued a statement saying that "this is a moment of pride and victory for our people, on the way to achieving the dream of establishing the independent state with Jerusalem as its capital."

Hamas at first seemed critical of the "Arab Idol" fever sweeping Gaza, with a spokesman saying last month that the name and idea of the show are blasphemous.

However, Hamas is known for not going against public opinion. In a sign of a shift, a Hamas lawmaker in Gaza, Yehiyeh Moussa, this week praised Assaf as the "ambassador for Palestinian art."

Some religious leaders, though, remained harshly critical. Mohammed Salim, delivering a sermon Friday at Islam's third holiest shrine, the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, said Palestinians lost sight of their struggle for independence by getting preoccupied with the show.

"Voting for songs and immorality, evil and sin is not only forbidden, it is a crime against the cause of our people," he said.

___

Daraghmeh reported from Ramallah, West Bank.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Drew Willy on his team's win over Alouettes

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Local-(Standup photo)- A wood duck swims through the water with fall refections in Kildonan Park Thursday afternoon.
  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press. Local- Weather standup. Sundog. Refraction of light through ice crystals which caused both the sun dog and and fog along McPhillips Road early Wednesday morning. 071205.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What do you think of the new school-zone speed limit?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google