Saturday, August 10, 2013

Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf is revered by fans in the Middle East but his main aim now is to help establish the rights of fellow Palestinians

"To be honest I have no trust in Israel at the moment. If they give us our land and our rights back, I will sing in Israel, but they have to do something positive. It's up to them. They have made no effort to dismantle their illegal settlements, for example – quite the opposite." Mohammed Assaf
Palestinian winner of Arab Idol Mohammed Assaf performs in the West Bank city of Ramallah last month. Photograph: Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images

Arab pop star adds his voice to the calls for a peace deal for Palestine

Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf is revered by fans in the Middle East but his main aim now is to help establish the rights of fellow Palestinians
An incredible voice is invariably the key to success in any TV talent show. But not many singers choose to use theirs like Mohammed Assaf, the 23-year-old Palestinian who shot to prominence across the Middle East and north Africa in June by winning the hugely popular Arab Idol.

Assaf's pitch-perfect renditions of regional classics from across the Arab world attracted an audience of up to 100 million for the show's final. Exuberant idealism may have been the hallmark of his performances but, like those who achieved so much in the early months of the Arab spring revolutions of 2011, Assaf knows romanticism alone will not sustain his ambitions. In the buildup to Palestinian-Israeli peace talks which resume in Jerusalem this week, there is no doubting his growing political influence. "I have a great responsibility to my people," said Assaf, after performing at a new stadium near Hebron in the West Bank to thousands of ecstatic fans. Nationalist songs such as Ya Tair al-Tayer (Oh Bird in Flight) provided solace to those yearning for full Palestinian independence, but Assaf is convinced that real change is possible.

"I am confident that I will see a free Palestine in my lifetime," he said. "I sing about popular themes but they centre on the hopes of my own people – dreams of independence for the West Bank, for Jerusalem and for Gaza. We've been under Israeli occupation for decades."

Born in Colonel Gaddafi's Libya and growing up in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, Assaf embodies the struggles of a generation who, two years ago during the pro-democracy revolutions, used every modern tool available to put their problems on the worldwide agenda. The internet and live satellite TV broadcasts were crucial to the Arab spring in an increasingly interdependent, media-driven world, but Assaf is also a passionate believer in the power of both popular music and celebrity to galvanise people.

"There are many ways to make a difference in life, but my way is as an artist," said Assaf, a graduate of Palestine University who has just become a UN youth ambassador. "I've always wanted to make my voice heard around the world, to sing about the occupation, about the security walls between communities, and about refugees. My first ambition is a cultural revolution through art. Palestinians don't want war...READ MORE

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