Tel Aviv is trying to punish Palestine's celebrity singer Mohammed Assaf for singing patriotic songs and the UAE is part of that effort.
An influential Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf who won the Arab Idol contest seven years ago has been banned by Israel from entering the occupied West Bank, where the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority is based.
Israel's Likud Party and Knesset member Avi Dichter told the media that the decision to blacklist Assaf, who lives in the UAE, came because of a series of videos he made calling for resistance against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.
Since Israel blocks the entry of any Palestinian from Graza into the occupied West Bank, Assaf's position as the youth ambassador of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) allowed him to secure the entry.
Now the Israeli government, according to Ditcher, wants the UNRWA to stop Assaf's activities in the UN agency. So far no UN official has commented on the matter.
Basem Farajallah, the head of the Palestinian British Family Club stated that all attempts to wipe the 'Palestinian narrative and identity are doomed to fail because it is deeply rooted in the consciousness and collective memory of all pro-justice and Arab nations.'
“Revoking Assaf’s permit is a test for the ability of Arab regimes to change their approach towards Israel and whether they can accept dictation to lessen their support to the Palestinian cause in light of the normalization deals in the region” Farajallah told TRT World.
Israel's attack on Assaf is seen in light of the recent normalisation deals signed by the UAE and Bahrain with Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv's hostility toward Assaf coincided with the removal of one of his famous songs from the MBC “Arab Idol” YouTube channel, which is owned by a Saudi businessman. The MBC, which stands for the Middle East Broadcasting Centre, is based in the UAE’s financial capital Dubai.
Assaf's famous song “Alli El-Kufieyah” resonated across the Arab World, with it being viewed 91 million times on the Arab Idol channel before it was taken down.
Dichter was candid enough to admit that Israel was negotiating with the UAE, where Assaf lives, to ensure that the Palestinian celebrity was prevented from performing in concerts, so as to end his “inciting activities”.
Assaf responded on his social media platforms that: “What is reported about preventing me from entering the occupied Palestinian territories, Jerusalem and Gaza is nothing but a continuation of the policies of oppression and curbing the freedoms suffered by my people, to whom I belong in the heart, entity and soul. Nothing will deter me from loving my country and singing about it in all forums, with my heart, oh my country.”
The Palestinian minister of culture Atef Abu Saif called it an "Israeli campaign and incitement against Palestinian arts".
Saif said this was the attack on one of the stars of Palestine, "who carry to the world the voice and story of our people suffering under the occupation."
"This campaign will not succeed in undermining the eternal message of the Palestinian artists and their struggle," Seif told Wafa News Agency.
Israel enforced the prohibition of civilian movement between Gaza and the West Bank since the signing of the Oslo accords in 1994. Palestinians with Israeli issued registration identity upon birth can travel abroad and come back to the West Bank but have to apply for a permit, which is like a visa, to enter either of the two territories— the West Bank or Gaza. The siege has been frustrating for Palestinians since they are snatched their right to travel in what used to be their own country. Israel is in full control of any one who leaves or enters the territory.
Assaf, who grew up in Gaza’s Khan Younis town, was granted the travel permit by Israel after he was named as the Ambassador of Youth by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency ‘UNRWA’, which caters for millions of Palestinian refugees in the occupied Palestinian territories, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
Palestinians took to social media in support of Assaf. Many praised him for his patriotic stance and for rejecting all forms of Israel's 'blackmailing'.
Every nation takes pride in their culture and tradition, so do Palestinians, who have been battling the Israeli occupation and ensuring their cultural identity survives in the face of one of the most brutal occupations the world has ever seen.
“Israel’s representative to the UN stated a few days ago in his speech that there will be a new Israeli campaign designed to target all anti-normalization peaceful initiatives. The revocation of Assaf’s permit is one of those Israeli efforts aimed at silencing Palestinian voices and pro-Palestine campaigns. Not to mention the role of some Arab media and drama platforms such as Shahid.net -which is owned by MCB group- for deleting a pro-Palestine drama series, called the ‘Palestinian Displacement,’ ” Palestinian activist Ziad Elaloul told TRT World.
Others have accused some social media platforms of being complicit in removing Palestinian content. “We saw many platforms cracking down on Palestinian pages and journalists by taking their accounts down. We thought art was peaceful and untouchable until the recent ravel ban on Palestinian sensation Mohammed Assaf, in an attempt to silence him and deprive home of his right to come back to his country,” Omar Ghraieb said, while speaking to TRT World.
Israel has been following a policy of limiting Palestinian thinking and influence for several decades. They have taken draconian measures to contain it, but in light of the rise of the internet, especially the social media movements, the Palestinian narrative has reached a wider audience across the world, raising alarm bells in the Israeli military establishment.
Israel dedicates much of its annual budget to research and intelligence centres. They gather information, monitor Palestinian media content as well as the activities of activists and Palestinian influencers.
With the targetting of Assaf, it now seems the Israeli state intend to curb any patriotic songs with the help of their new Arab allies like the UAE and Bahrain.
But Assaf's melodious voice and songs of freedom has inspired tens of thousands of youth in the Arab world. No media gag can reverse it. His songs will be sung and memorised for generations to come.