Up, the kufiyeh!

Yesterday midnight we went out for a party outside on the streets of Bethlehem. A motor cyclist shot along the usually quiet University Road with his arms for some 100 meters spread out in the air. A car drove full speed over a little hill set up to brake speed so that the vehicle hang in the air for a brief moment. Like other West Bank cities, Bethlehem exploded for Mohammed Assaf, the 23-year old youngster from the refugee camp Khan Younis in Gaza who just had won Arab Idols, the Arab variant of the famous talent show. We hadn’t that experienced before in Bethlehem, an outbreak of so much spontaneous joy. Cars with Palestinian flags, people sitting or hanging out of the windows or through the roofs, claxoning, standing on the brakes or giving full gas, it all didn’t matter as long as it made noise. Mabroek sha’ab  Falastin ! [Congratulations, Palestinian people], shouted a lady out of a window of a car to all of us. Mabrouk! we shouted back.

The social media were of course in full gear, Jara participating enthusiastically. The winner of the TV competition which is broadcast across the Arab world and viewed worldwide (also by Arabs far outside the Middle East) had to be determined by viewers through text messages sent to Lebanon. Palestinian telephone companies distributed free telephone cards so that each could send out a great many messages. Companies offered extra messages to those who bought their products, like a cup of coffee. Since the Egyptian competitor in the contest could potentially count on the votes of millions of Egyptians, there was massive mobilization. At the end perhaps some 65 million votes were given to Assaf, a well-looking man with, indeed, a great voice

Yesterday, we took him at a workshop for religious studies teachers as an example of the moral principle of “giving.” Did Mohammed give a gift to the Palestinian people – or was he more the receiver of status, money, a beautiful car? Well, he certainly gave, and not a little: he gave a feeling of national unity. In his songs – such as “Up, the kufiyeh!” – he mentioned all the different groups of the Palestinian people that should be mentioned, such as the prisoners and the fallen. He also mentioned the “sections” of the Palestinian people fragmented against their will: the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, the ’48 Palestinians (those living inside Israel), the Jerusalemites, the Palestinians in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Palestinians in the Diaspora.

Mohammed is religious but not fanatic and the imam of Nablous on the West Bank who proclaimed a fatwa against the glitter show, did not receive support. According to rumors, the Palestinian Authority tried to recruit him against Hamas, but the wedding singer from Gaza refused to join the game.

Call it cultural resistance. Mary sent a text message to her friend this morning: “Good morning, victory.” Her friend answered: “Good morning, dignity.” “Let us for one day taste a victory,” said a Palestinian in response to a skeptical observer from Qatar who did not understand all that joy. After all, the show did not change the situation? The response: “You don’t understand because: where were you when the bombs fell on Gaza?”


Toine van Teeffelen

Head of Education

AEI-Open Windows


23 June 2013

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