After ‘Arab Idol’ win, Gaza goes to sleep with hope

By winning the Arab Idol singing competition, Muhammad Assaf did what politics hasn’t been able to: he united Palestinians.

By Abeer Ayyoub

Palestinian Mohammad Assaf, singing in ‘Arab Idol (Screenshot)
Palestinian Mohammad Assaf, singing in ‘Arab Idol (Screenshot)

GAZA – I have, in the past, witnessed Palestinians in Gaza rushing into the streets to celebrate various events. Once, it was after reaching a ceasefire that ended the eight-day Israeli offensive in November 2012. Another time was to celebrate the UN vote on upgrading statehood status for Palestine. But I don’t remember ever seeing them as happy as when Gazan competitor Muhammad Assaf won the title of Arab Idol.

Like everyone around, I preferred to go watch the final episode in a public place with my friends. We were excited, optimistic, and yet very nervous. The countdown started. Hours, minutes, seconds, “and the winner is Muhammad Assaf from Palestine,” the presenter announced. We all jumped in the air with a huge scream.

Aya, my friend who I was sitting next to, hugged me; I cried. It was indescribable. Assaf, who lives in my impoverished Strip, drank the same low-quality water I drank, suffered the same restrictive siege I suffered, and today, is representing Palestine in an artistic competition far away from the blood and wars.

Fireworks went off for hours and Assaf’s songs were played in every corner of the city. At the restaurant where we were sitting, the waiters were dancing together with the customers. Later, the restaurant made a celebratory cake for its guests; it was huge.

Knowing that Assaf had won the title over two Egyptian and Syrian competitors, everyone in Gaza, of all ages and genders, rushed into the streets; I was no exception. I celebrated with all the happiness in the world inside me.

I had been lucky enough to get the last seat in a sea-view restaurant; my family had to go watch the show at a different café, also at the beach. Mum preferred to stay home alone; she’s an indoor person. When the results were announced, I called my siblings to congratulate them, they were no less happy.

I waited for them to come and take me home, as there were no taxis due to the huge crowds of people in the streets. It took them more than half an hour to travel the short distance to where I was. I wasn’t in a rush; I was enjoying taking photos of people dancing in the streets.

Gazans celebrate Muhammad Assaf winning Arab Idol, June 22, 2013 (Photo: Abeer Ayyoub)
Gazans celebrate Muhammad Assaf winning Arab Idol, June 22, 2013 (Photo: Abeer Ayyoub)

When the family car arrived, I found my brothers and sisters having their own party inside the car. They were holding Palestinian flags and photos of Assaf, playing his songs at full volume; they were madly happy.

When we finally got home, we found Mum gazing at the television screen with a wide smile on her face. “He won, dears,” she said in an excited tone, the atmosphere full of happiness and passion.

I asked Mum how it was in the neighborhood when the results were announced. She said the fireworks never stopped and that my two-year-old niece, Tala, woke up crying out of fear. She thought it was the same sounds of bombardments she usually hears; sad!

That was the reason we were so happy – we are not accustomed to such kinds of happiness, we have always known war, blood and destruction. But yesterday, we proved to everyone, first and foremost to ourselves, that we are a nation of love and peace rather than a nation of blood and war.

Assaf did what politics couldn’t: he united Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem, the occupied lands of 1948 and the diaspora. They all supported the Palestinian artist regardless of his home territory or political affiliation. That is the ultimate Palestinian goal: unity.

That night, Gaza went to sleep dreaming of hope, love and peace. Gaza never was a territory of terrorism or war, and it has always looked for a chance to prove it. Thanks Assaf, you did it on our behalf.

Abeer Ayyoub, 26, studied English literature at the Islamic University of Gaza. She is a journalist who covered the last war on Gaza and has recently covered various internal issues. She has written pieces online in English for Al Jazeera, Haaretz and other publications.