Palestinians break their isolation through culture and music

Friday 26/06/2015
Supporters of Mohammed Assaf in the West Bank city of Ramallah July 1, 2013.

Ramallah - As event manager Tariq Shadid puts the final touches on preparations for an upcoming cultural and musical event, he faces a usual uncertainty: He can’t be 100% sure that The Egyptian Week in Palestine will take place as planned.

Eleven Egyptian musicians, po­ets, singers and media personali­ties, some of them coming for the first time, will take part in a series of activities over a week, starting June 18th in the West Bank and, possibly, in Nazareth — a predominantly Pal­estinian city in Israel proper.

With an eager audience and good ticket sales guaranteed, Shadid’s dilemma is whether his Egyptian guests will be allowed to show up.

Israel, which controls all border outposts in the Palestinian territo­ries, has turned back scores of visi­tors to the West Bank, especially pro-Palestinian activists. Some are delayed or denied entry without explanation.

However, Shadid was confident that he will overcome the hurdles.

He recalled when Egyptian poet Hisham al-Jakh was delayed for hours at an Israeli crossing point into the West Bank and almost missed a February 12th perfor­mance.

“Still, he arrived a few minutes before the show, freshened up and performed but that was a little later than planned,” Shadid said. “Pales­tine has a special charm that makes people forget the pain they suffer coming in.”

Having few celebrities of their own, and unable to see perfor­mances at home, Palestinians are fascinated when they meet their idols. When celebrities are in town, social media buzz with news on their whereabouts. Often, Palestin­ians just want to get a once-in-a-lifetime quick peek at the celebri­ties in person.

The phenomenal win of Gaza Strip artist Mohammed Assaf in a pan-Arab singing competition has undoubtedly given Palestinians a sense of pride in a star entertainer of their own. When voters chose him as “Arab Idol” in 2013, hun­dreds in the West Bank and Gaza took to the streets, honking and re­joicing over a rare sense of victory. Thousands attended Assaf’s free concerts, while others paid at least $120 per ticket to attend his private parties in the West Bank.

“Happiness is resistance and we want to show the world that we can live and enjoy life despite the political hardships,” says Mustafa, a 30-year-old Ramallah resident who says he often goes to parties in town. “This, on its own, is a suc­cess.”

Palestinians and their political leadership have often called on fel­low Arabs, celebrity or not, to dare break an Israeli siege by visiting them.

However, some Arabs refuse to go to the occupied West Bank, cit­ing their objection to encouraging normalisation with Israel. They consider Israel’s authority at Pal­estinian entry points as a tacit rec­ognition of its military rule of the West Bank.

By the same token, the Arabs’ declared support for the Palestin­ian boycott of Israel is adding to the isolation of West Bank residents be­cause, when it comes to concerts, not many can afford or are allowed to travel abroad to attend them.

Shadid, who set up Fikra Adver­tising Services company in 2006, following the end of the second intifada, said travel of performers is arranged by the Palestinian Au­thority (PA). “If it wasn’t for their help, we wouldn’t be able to obtain permission for the artists to come,” he said.

The special permits, which the PA coordinates with Israel, are not visas but Israeli entry approval for a specific artist.

The process to obtain them is lengthy and arduous, involving stringent Israeli security checks. Israel’s Hebrew logo is not usu­ally stamped on artists’ passports to spare them questioning when entering Arab countries, some of which reject such stamps in pass­ports by an enemy country.

Jordanian singer Adham Nabulsi said he was detained for four hours at Beirut’s airport in June and ulti­mately denied entry into Lebanon. He said he had no Israeli stamps in his passport but that he was barred entry because he had performed in the West Bank.

Boycott activists pushed to stop a performance by a Jordanian band after it was known that it had en­tered the West Bank with an Israeli visa and planned to perform at an Israeli bar.

The move was in line with a boy­cott regulation, which stipulates that artists can only perform in the Palestinian territories, not Israel.

For Shadid, what could be a tem­porary solution is simple.

“We must have a Palestinian dis­patched to Jordan to accompany Arab artists coming to visit,” he ex­plained. “He can deal on their behalf with Israeli soldiers at the bridge.”

Shadid said performers are often ecstatic when asked to perform in Palestinian territories.

“Is this something I can say no to”? he recounted the answer he received from Egyptian actor Mahmoud Abdul Aziz.