Arab Idol and Palestinianhood

Arab Idol and Palestinianhood

Palestinians are a resilient people. Despite immense challenges they face, they are rising in the film industry, arts and other areas of pop culture. Through  persistence, hard work and talent, they are winning headlines and awards, from local contests to world renowned contests like the Oscars. And as they get there, each side tries to gain ownership over their creations. Are they Israeli? Are they Palestinian? More importantly, how is their success perceived? 

The Palestinian generation born after 1948 is viewed as a fearful generation that had to fight just to survive and overcome the devastation of the Palestinian Nakba. [1] The following generation, known as the X generation, is characterized, to a greater extent, as rebels who did not accept the fate of their people but took matters into their own hands. They were the pioneers that broke many barriers Palestinians faced. And in many ways, the generation that followed them, the Y generation, is now reaping the opportunities paved for them with hard work, skills and talent. This generation has seized pop culture in a way that empowers and embraces their sense of solidarity and love to their people. 

An Israeli television news agency produced a five-piece article about a generation that disassociated from the term “Israeli Arab,” replacing it with “Palestinian Israeli,” many of whom live ‘a Western modern’ lifestyle, leaving their Arab traditions and towns behind for urban Israeli cities. This article, named after a movie called “In Between,” tells the story of  three young Palestinian women navigating the fine line between tradition and modernity. This perceived new phenomenon reflects the arrogance and stereotypes Israeli Jewish society holds about its own Palestinian minority. The article tried to take credit for the modernization of its Palestinian minority, but in fact, I see it as a victory for Western culture, which exceeds Israeli views of modernity. 

To us, as Palestinian Israelis, this lifestyle has long existed but in recent years has accelerated in light of the increased radicalization of Israeli society - becoming more Jewish than democratic. To many Palestinians, Israel has lost its model of modernity but is rather a form of discriminatory ethnocracy that does not accept them. As a result, Palestinian Israelis have rejected Israeli culture and have given up trying to integrate into it. To be accepted into Israeli Jewish culture, Arabs are expected to abandon their Palestinian identity and this price is too high for them. Instead, many Palestinian Israelis have chosen to form their own culture, a culture that also challenges some aspects of Arab tradition, especially women’s place in society, while also embracing Palestinian heritage and language on the one hand, and some forms of modern lifestyle on the other. 

This shift has also brought an increased awareness and sense of solidarity between Palestinian Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. In the Arab world, “Arab Idol” is the most popular show, a singing contest viewed by the entire Arab world, which amounts to millions of viewers worldwide. Yesterday, Yacoub Shaheen, a young Palestinian Bethlehemite, won the title of Arab Idol. The winner of a previous Arab Idol was a young Palestinian Gazan, Mohamad Assaf, whose life story was turned into a movie, “The Idol,” directed by the international award-winning Palestinian director Hani Abu-Assad (who is originally from Nazareth, but now resides in Europe). Yacoub is one of the three finalists who competed in this season: Ammar - a Yemenite residing in Kuwait, and Amir Dandan, a Palestinian Israeli from Majd el-Kroum. 

One of the mainstream Israeli newspapers quickly claimed Amir to be one of them, reporting the event - “An Israeli vs. a Palestinian in the finals of Arab Idol”. This title brought much criticism among Palestinians because the Israeli media imposed Israeliness on Amir. It seemed that the Israeli media was happy to take the credit for Amir’s achievement when, in reality, Israeli media tends to portray its Palestinian minority as outsiders with a backwards culture (except when it comes to food - Israeli culture acknowledges our hummus-making skills). For example, many Israelis used social media to mock and belittle a Palestinian Israeli teacher after being interviewed for her creativity in using a drum to teach her pupils Hebrew. However, Amir eradicated any doubt about his Palestinianhood when he sang and carried the Palestinian flag during the pre-final episode designated to reflect the finalists’ identity. 

The height of the show for me was at the end of the finale after Yacoub was announced the winner. During the  winning song he invited Amir and Assaf to join him singing together. All three of them were wearing Palestinian flags and proudly singing, “ّI am a Palestinian.” The three of them standing together on the stage, in front of millions of viewers, reflects the solidarity and unity among Palestinians - West Bankers, Gazans and those residing in Israel. 

These are only a few examples of talented and gifted Palestinians who are marking their contribution to art, culture and music, and there will be more to come. For the time being, if you get a chance, go to Bethlehem and experience how proud the townspeople are of Yacoub’s achievement.


[1] I am using the Western Cultural Generations names for illustration but not all characteristics apply to Palestinians.

*[Some of the links are in Hebrew as I was unable to find the English equivalent.]

 
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