Fan portrait of Mohammed Assaf (photo:Facebook)
It had to happen. The Arab Idol competition featuring Mohammed Assaf has become explicitly political. A Palestinian prisoner serving a 27-year sentence in an Israeli jail sent an open letter to the judges of Arab Idol describing the impact the Gazan sensation has had on the lives of ordinary Palestinians, and a judge read from the letter on air, including a description of hunger strikes to gain the prisoners’ basic rights.
We reported earlier on the phenomenon of Assaf’s popularity and his universal appeal. Now Hussam Shaheen’s letter relates the impact of Mohammed Assaf on the dreams and aspirations of Palestinians everywhere for freedom and recognition.
In the letter Hussam Shaheen explains that prisoners have had to wage hunger strikes and risk grave diseases just to gain the ability to watch MBC station and other television stations. That passage of the letter was read aloud to Mohammed Assaf by one of the judges on last Friday’s episode of Arab Idol. More on that later, including Assaf’s reponse.
But let’s focus on Shaheen’s letter to more fully understand the immeasurable impact Mohammed Assaf is having in Palestine and across the Arab world and ponder the political ramification of Palestinian unification.
We watched this season’s “Arab idol” show on MBC. The new look and multitude of beautiful Arab voices throughout the area and the great Arab homeland, has made the choice very difficult for the Arabic viewer and not just the esteemed jury. There is no doubt that this program, which contributes to the discovery of talented Arab youth, injects the art scene with real Taraby voices [in musical context , this means voices that can do difficult authentic Arabic music] and is considered one of the Arab programs committed to high professional and technical standards; This was confirmed by the wise decisions taken by the jury over the past few weeks, excluding granting the rescue card at an early moment, except from being used for the benefit of someone who has been previously saved, at the expense for the rest of his colleagues. Which met with controversy and widely criticized in the ranks of the prisoners.
Some may be surprised by the prisoners’ attention to these details; but the truth index in the prison society indicates that the prisoners’ reaction to local and national issues carries with it a realistic dimension; how every progressive act helps in highlighting the civilized face of the Arab nation. From our point of view, Arab Idol is considered an artistic and national program with distinction. We Palestinians have the depth and a national umbrella through the talented young Mohammed Assaf; the Palestinian voice whose throats warbles gracefully like the shores of Gaza of Hashem, the full bloom of the mountains of Carmel and Galilee, and the sweetness of soulful hymns in the streets and alleys of old Jerusalem.
The life of a prisoners is filled with everyday worries and torments. And part of the conflict, which is managed by the occupation behind prison walls aimed at uprooting small joys -as small as the the size of the place where we are confined – from our hearts in order to continue its goal to break the will of the Palestinian and Arab fighters. And in turn we strive as much as possible in accordance with the modest means available to us; to create and innovate sources of joy and take advantage of all the glimmer of giving to alleviate the attack on our morale. And on this path we continue the journey to struggle; to snatch our rights from the clutches of the usurper and occupier. Recently, we fought an open-ended hunger strike that lasted nearly a month, and one of the most important demands was the restoration of Arab satellite TV channels, including MBC. Do know the price of watching has cost us tons of human flesh and dozens of chronic diseases?!
Of course I thought to clarify this issue so the reader does not misunderstand that we have the means of entertainment for free or the blessing of the occupier; everything we have we had to sacrifice our bodies for it. We are fortunate that Arab Idol has been a qualitative addition that adds temporary and exclusive retreat of delight and joy to the cruel life of prisoners, where you’ll find everyone gathered on Friday and Saturday nights around the small screen in a unique phenomenon rarely repeated in the history of the prisoners movement.
It’s like the musical rhythm played by the band led by a maestro (Eli El Alia) transfers us to another world. And beside the smiles and big enthusiastic applause given to the appearance of Mohammed Assaf, there is admiration and fans for the rest of the talents competing, though the flavor of Palestine overwhelms everything. Most of the prisoners see that obtaining the title is a Palestinian victory in art, in the wake of setbacks cascading on the political front. Palestinians these days desperately need to achieve anything; and Mohammed Assaf represents at this stage the Palestinian Spirit yearning for freedom and for regular and dignified life like the rest of the people of the world! It it’s like how Barwas Hussein represents depth of the ongoing Kurdish tragedy!
The interactive scene with the program inside the prison provokes the warden, however the program draws to a close, and the high level of interaction and emotion with its rings, increases the tension between prisoners and prison guards who want to deny this immediate joy on the faces of the detainees. Whatever the results in terms of voting, or at the level of prison reality, we register our pride for the program and those who support it, and we single out the wonderful jury characterized by professionalism and fairness. In this context, it is essential that we express our pride and our pride in the great artist Ragheb Alama and his words of national pan-Arab nationalism, which expressed the extent of his love for Palestine issues and the nation, which had a great impact in our souls as Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
In the end, it should be noted the childlike innocence that many of the older prison veterans deal with the program – who have been detained more than a quarter of a century, it is sufficient to see the smile on their faces, and listen to their discourse about the program and how they miss regular life details, and you discover that Mohammed Assaf deservedly managed to put a smile on the faces of the prisoners!
(Translation by Enass Tinah)