Palestinians have been losing for a long time; losing land, losing freedoms, and losing patience. But that is precisely what makes 23-year old Mohammed Assaf’s victory on “Arab Idol” all the more profound.
With his winsome smile and powerhouse voice, the 23-year-old Palestinian wedding singer from Khan Younis, refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, has become a modern-day hero to millions across the world. Count me among them.
Assaf not only became the first Palestinian to win the singing competition, but he also became the first in decades to prompt such a visceral outpouring of emotion, uniting Palestinians of all walks of life, political affiliations and generations in a winning moment – a rarity, to say the least.
For too long, Palestinians, disillusioned with corrupt and divisive political representatives, have been looking for a non-political Palestinian to remind them of their shared struggle for freedom and dignity, coaxing them to put aside their differences.
On this weekend’s “Arab Idol” finale, Assaf, who lives in Hamas-ruled Gaza, became just that.
For months, Mohammed Assaf has been reminding Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and the diaspora, as well as those living inside Israel’s borders, that the struggle for freedom and dignity is shared – based on a cultural and collective national identity.
Celebrations erupted in Nazareth, Ramallah, Gaza, and across the diaspora. Both terms #Assaf and #Gaza were trending on Twitter. In Boston, My mother and I watched online on Skype with her 83 year-old aunt who, like my mom, fled Palestine in 1967. Each one of us overwhelmed and overjoyed, a welcome respite from the usual despair. Assaf’s win is a reminder to Palestinians that winning is possible; that after decades of destruction, evictions and losses, justice remains possible.