RAMALLAH, West Bank — For the first time, the hit television show Arab Idol has brought auditions for its newest season to Palestinian territory. This pronouncement follows last season’s victory of a young Palestinian man named Mohammed Assaf, whose triumph inspired viewers across Arab nations.
On March 17, five members of the production team for Arab Idol came from their headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, to hold tryouts at the Grand Park Hotel in the city of Ramallah, located in the West Bank. Roughly 500 singers were able to try out, all between the ages of 15 years old and 30 years old. Those interviewed expressed their hope for being able to leave conflict and political unrest behind them and use their voices to catapult them from poverty.
The decision to bring tryouts to Palestine has opened the door for young hopefuls like last year’s winner, Assaf, and has made it easier for those living in poverty to embrace this opportunity. In order for Assaf to audition, he had to travel from his home in the refugee camp, Khan Younis, located in Gaza, to the show’s headquarters in Lebanon, which proved a difficult journey.
Multiple obstacles stood between Assaf and his dream to showcase his talent and relieve himself from the horrors of poverty. Due to certain restrictive laws in Palestine, he was nearly unable to leave Gaza to audition. At just 23 years old, Assaf begged the Palestinian government, Hamas, to allow him to leave his home in Gaza to try out for Arab Idol. That was the first hurdle of many, as once he approached Egypt’s borders, he had to bribe the guards in order to pass through to reach Lebanon.
Once in line at the Arab Idol auditions, he was not guaranteed an audition because there was a limited amount of singers the producers were willing to hear. Luckily for him, a Palestinian man like himself gave him his audition slot because he thought Assaf might be able to win it all.
Assaf beat out the other two finalists, Ahmed Jamal from Egypt and Farah Youssef from Syria, by winning the hearts of viewers across the borders of numerous Arab nations. Throughout his time on the program, he chose to sing songs that embraced his Palestinian identity and also expressed the passionate struggle for independence.
Assaf saluted his homeland after winning, and recognized those “who have been suffering occupation for decades.” Assaf’s victory was so publicized that even the president of the State of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, called him to congratulate him.
Abbas remarked that Assaf is “the pride of the Palestinian and Arab nation.” Following his win, Assaf was elected as the Youth Ambassador for the United Nation’s Agency for Palestinian Refugees. He was also appointed as the Goodwill Ambassador by Abbas, and was thus granted a diplomatic passport allowing him to travel.
Assaf’s story has inspired and drawn in more viewers than ever. While his talent and determination carried him through the competition, Assaf has noted since his victory that Palestinians should be given more of an opportunity from the get-go. His input has definitely had some influence over the decision to bring the auditions to Palestine. Assaf discussed the decision with the Associated Press, saying, “We have to put Palestine on the map. This is the first Arab contest to come here and recruit people, and other programs will follow.”
Assaf could not have been more accurate, and a new Palestinian talent show called Best Talent has emerged that will appear on a Palestinian television network. Preparations are still in the works, but it has been established that auditions will be held in Palestine to give civilians another opportunity to display their voices.
Not only has the decision to bring auditions to Palestine been an accomplishment for the state itself, but it also speaks volumes to the rest of the world. While Arab Idol may just be another singing competition, this is a political statement as well, since it brings recognition to Palestinian territory. In the process, Palestine is also being acknowledged as a home to people with talents that are deserving of opportunities. It is momentous that Assaf’s achievement has allowed for many people living in poverty to try and achieve their dreams.
Sources: ABC News, Aljazeera, Haaretz