Sunday, 25 August 2013

Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf: ‘I have a goal and it’s not fame, I want to influence people’

Since winning Arab Idol last June, Mohammed Assaf's life has been a whirlwind, from adoring fans in Gaza, Ramallah, Amman and Dubai, to concerts everywhere. He has been the positive story of the summer in the Arab world, a summer that has seen drastic changes in Egypt, Syria and many places.

Enass Tinah sat with Assaf in his Grand Park hotel suit in Ramallah, for an exclusive interview with Mondoweiss. We talked about his vision of his future career, how he sees the role of music and singing in a social frame, Netanyahu's complaint about his song Ya Tir Ya Tayer, and many more matters. Assaf seemed aware of the responsibilities he carries not just as a popular winner of Arab Idol, he is aware that there are hopes and dreams built on his story and success, both musically as an extraordinary talent with a golden voice, and as a Palestinian whose message has affected not just Palestinians and Arabs, but a global audience as well.

Tinah: In one of Martin Luther King's speeches he said “As long as the mind is enslaved, the body can never be free." He referenced psychological freedom and self-esteem as "the most powerful weapon" against physical oppression/slavery. Assuming he is correct, how do you think art and beauty strengthens that weapon? Where do you see the role of art and music in giving freedom for the oppressed human under oppression and injustice?

Assaf: From more than one side, look at the Palestinian people, they have been suffering under occupation for more than 60 years, but despite all the suffering and the pain, they do feel happiness. People get married, they have weddings, they celebrate graduations, people are living normally like anybody else, like someone living in Britain. There are differences of course, they are under pressures. The secret in the Palestinian people, is that despite their ordeals and suffering, they can celebrate any place and at any time.

Tinah: But how do you see art, music, poetry. How can they help us?

Assaf: They do help us, music is essential, the music for little children before they go to sleep, it’s calming for them. Music is something that changes the world, it prompts yearning and longing, love, so many noble things. Music is a noble message that reaches people’s heart faster than anything else.

Tinah: Phil Weiss wrote on Mondoweiss, “His career, we can only hope, will be as a singer for the world, not just for Palestine." He didn’t use the words 'a global star', he said artist of the world. If he chose the right path, he could be a singer for the world, his message will not only reach the Palestinians or the Arab people, it could reach other nations who are suffering. What do you feel about this, can you deliver Arabic music and culture to non-Arabs?

Assaf: Of course. First, these days singing in many accents and languages is not an easy thing maybe, for me. But if I work on it I can improve myself, I can actually sing in different accents, this is one thing. Second thing, music and singing I want to tell him is not about music videos, people dancing, fame, lights and stardom; art should be a message; this is what it is basically. You can use it in any pathway you feel suitable. You can change things, you can help a cause. Songs are not just for love, you can talk about women issues in the Arab world, I am not talking in general terms, but specific issues, like the right of women to inherit, her right to work. Even these issues can be put in songs; you can try and solve problems. more

Call to action: Join ISM for the 2013 Olive Harvest Campaign

At a time of regular settler violence in the West Bank, the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) is issuing an urgent call for volunteers to join us for the 2013 Olive Harvest Campaign at the invitation of Palestinian communities.

The olive tree is a national symbol for Palestinians. As thousands of olive trees have been bulldozed, uprooted, burned and destroyed by Israeli settlers and the military – according to the UN settlers alone destroyed or damaged over 7,500 trees just in 2012 – harvesting has become more than a source of livelihood; it has become a form of resistance.

The olive harvest is an annual affirmation of Palestinians’ historical, spiritual, and economic connection to their land, and a rejection of Israeli efforts to seize it. Despite attempts by Israeli settlers and soldiers to prevent them from accessing their land, Palestinian communities have remained steadfast in refusing to give up their olive harvest.

ISM volunteers join Palestinian farming communities each year to harvest olives, in areas where Palestinians face settler and military violence when working their land. Your presence can make a big difference, with Palestinian communities stating that the presence of international volunteers reduces the risk of extreme violence from Israeli settlers and the Israeli army.

We support Palestinians’ assertion of their right to earn their livelihoods and be present on their lands. International solidarity activists engage in non-violent intervention and documentation, practical support which enables many families to pick their olives.


The ISM will be holding mandatory two day training sessions which will run weekly on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Please see the join ISM page or contact for further information.

In addition to the Olive Harvest Campaign, volunteers can also participate in regular ISM activities in support of the Palestinian popular struggle.

Join us in our solidarity with the Palestinian resistance at this crucial time of year! more

Video: Gaza - The economy under the siege. Interview with head of PCHR economic unit

Khalil S. Shaheen, Head of the Economic Unit at the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, talks about the Gaza economy under the siege, how the occupation and the siege affect directly the economy, and therefore the development of the oppressed Palestinian people, denying them the right to develop and have normal lives as human beings.

Afropop star Salif Keita cancels Israel gig after boycott calls

World-renowned Afropop sensation Salif Keita has canceled a scheduled performance in occupied Jerusalem following a campaign by Palestine solidarity activists.

Keita claims he canceled due to “threats”.

The Israeli producers of the Jerusalem Festival of Sacred Music announced on their official Facebook page today:
Salif Keita canceled his participation in the Jerusalem Festival of Sacred Music. A few hours before his departure for Jerusalem the Malian musician Salif Keita decided to heed the demands of the cultural boycott of Israel and to cancel his participation in the closing concert of the festival.
Israel’s Ynet also reported the statement in Hebrew today.

Keita, known as the “Golden Voice of Africa,” took the step following appeals including a letter from Farid Esack, an active member of BDS South Africa and veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle, and Campagne BDS France, among others. more

Jenin man shot by Israeli forces needs spinal surgery

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- A man shot on Tuesday by Israeli forces is due to undergo spinal surgery, his relatives say.

Ala Abu Khalifa was critically wounded this week after being shot during an Israeli arrest raid in Jenin refugee camp. He was hit by a dumdum bullet which caused severe damage to his spinal cord, his mother told Ma'an.

He has lost all feeling in his lower body since the injury and has already undergone two operations on his colon and pelvis, she added.

Karim Sbeih, who was critically wounded by Israeli forces during the same incident, has had part of his kidneys, colon, lungs and liver removed, his brother told Ma'an. more