Recently I have been feeling the urge to write my feelings on paper, my feelings about a young man who was unknown to most of us a few months ago, but now is an Arab idol. What is it about him that has moved me so much and brought tears to my eyes. I tried to dig deep inside and understand my mixed feelings and I decided the best way to express them was through writing. This young man is Mohammed Assaf, a man with a passion for singing, a voice that has entered many of our houses without knocking on the door. A voice so strong that has moved many of us and took us to a place where hope and peace still exists. Mohammed Assaf is a 23 year old man from Gaza, a city that has been under blockade and recurring conflicts for decades. He lived most of his life in Khanyoones refugee camps, under god knows what conditions. His dream of becoming a singer made him try the impossible to reach Arab Idol trials in Egypt, and his luck made some contestant give up his number so Mohammed can get in. When Mohammed started to sing, he moved so many of us, his voice so powerful and filled with unspoken stories about Palestine. Forget his incredible voice, because it wasn’t only his voice that moved us but his songs about a country that has long been forgotten. His words about this beautiful country reached every inch of this planet. He woke up the patriotism that was buried and forgotten in most of us. He reminded us of the streets of Gaza, he sang about Jeneen, Safad, Tabariah, Haifa, Ramallah, Al Nasra, Beesan, Al Quds. Cities that most of us only dream of seeing one day. He reminded us of this piece of land that was once filled with our ancestors picking olives from the olive trees, he reminded us of our strong men that fought for this country.
Yes, Mohammed Assaf is merely a singer with a nice voice. Some argue that he is just ‘another’ singer. But I argue, but I cannot argue without saying that if I could and only if I could separate ‘music’ from ‘religion’ and I don’t even know if that’s possible to do. But if I could do that, I see a man that has brought tears of happiness and hope to a nation not accustomed to happiness. To a nation that has forgotten what it feels like to win, even if it was over something as unimportant as it may seem ‘ a singing competition’, he brought a whole nation inside Palestine and outside together, even if it was just for a day. His songs about Palestine were heard across the globe. Our flag was for once held up high in every spot of the world. Who did that but a ‘singer’, not a politician, not a humanitarian, not anyone with ‘better qualifications’. I saw the desperate cries all over Palestine, from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip. Cries of a people with shattered dreams and hopes. People waiting for a joyful moment just to escape their burdens even if it were just for moments.
I saw my father in law in tears when Mohammed Assaf won, and I am sure those tears had nothing to do with his voice or even what he was singing, those were tears that were buried deep down along side the painful memories of every Palestinian that once fled Palestine. Those were tears of pure happiness that we have finally won something and felt the joys of victory rather than loss. Tears that our flag was all over the channels. Tears from remembering fleeing a home and leaving behind so many joyful memories. Tears from remembering what once existed but now has disappeared, the cities that have been completely evacuated and wiped off the map. Olive trees that filled our country. Tears from remembering the humiliation we faced and still face.
No, Mohammed Assaf did not end the occupation! And yes maybe he made people forget the misery they are in for a few minutes. But he brought us back to a place that we have almost forgotten. He gave us a sense of belonging again, he gave the Palestinians a much needed break from the never ending conflicts and wars and sorrows. He brought tears of happiness to people that only cried tears of desperation and humiliation. He united us with songs about Palestine. He made us remember that we are a nation filled with talented and gifted individuals that are only waiting for an opportunity to excel and achieve in every aspect of life.
Yes, soon enough Mohammed Assaf might just be ‘another singer’ we see on television, but to me at this point in time, I see far more than just a singer. I see a strong willed Palestinian who went against all odds and jumped over every obstacle. I see a man bringing us back a sense of identity and victory that we lost along the way, who else did that but a singer??