Palestinians unite behind Gaza Strip "Arab Idol" star

Mon May 13, 2013 1:53pm EDT
 
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By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - The fractious factions in the Gaza Strip and across the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories have found one voice to unite behind - a 22-year-old youth singing songs about a lost homeland on the Middle East's version of 'American Idol'.

Gaza native Mohammed Assaf has become the first Palestinian to qualify for 'Arab Idol', a TV talent show staged in Beirut, in which singers perform for judges and voting viewers.

He is now one of the last 10 contestants - largely thanks to his potent mix of good looks and emotional lyrics about ancestral Palestinian lands.

"He is the pride of Palestine. He broke the siege with his voice," said fan Rehaf al-Batniji, referring to Israel's blockade of Gaza, seized by the Jewish state, along with the West Bank, during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

She stood in front of a large mural of Assaf at a Gaza restaurant, one of hundreds of posters covering buildings and walls usually marked with political slogans.

Assaf's songs blare out of radios - a counter-balance to their usual broadcasts of bleak economic and political news.

Politicians have raced to endorse him and Palestinian mobile phone company Jawwal has cut the price of text messages to make it easier for supporters to vote.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, from the Fatah movement that holds sway in the West Bank, phoned the singer in Beirut and urged all Arabs to vote for him.   Continued...

 
A banner depicting Mohammed Assaf, a contestant in the TV talent show 'Arab Idol', is seen on a building in the West Bank city of Ramallah May 13, 2013. The fractious factions in the Gaza Strip and across the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories have found one voice to unite behind - the 22-year-old youth, Mohammed Assaf, from Gaza singing songs about a lost homeland on the Middle East's version of 'American Idol'. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman