Young Palestinian singer from Gaza Strip Mohammed Assaf was crowned on Saturday the “Arab Idol,” a singing contest broadcast on the Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC).
Immediately after he was crowned, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) named him a goodwill ambassador for peace, while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas offered him a position of “diplomatic standing.”
Assaf, who came ahead of two other contestants, Syria’s Farah Yousef and Egypt’s Ahmed Jamal, dedicated his award to the "Palestinian people, who have been suffering for more than 60 years from (Israeli) occupation."
Described as a Palestinian hero by his fans, the 23-year-old Gazan brought together divided Palestinians in celebrations throughout the Palestinian territories in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The handsome, tuxedo-clad Assaf won after weeks of anticipation from his army of followers, who had been glued to big screens in cafes and restaurants across Gaza and the occupied West Bank, listening as his powerful voice propelled him through the competition every weekend, AFP reported.
His mother, wearing a traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, wept as she wrapped the Palestinian black, green, white and red flag around her shoulders.
In northern Lebanon, Palestinian refugees in the Beddawi camp fired gunshots into the air and took to the streets, honking their car horns to celebrate Assaf’s win.
Shortly afterwards, a spontaneous demonstration broke out in Beddawi to celebrate the occasion.
Born in Misrata, Libya, Assaf grew up in the overcrowded Khan Yunis refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, one of the world’s poorest and most densely-populated places where Israel severely restricts the movement of people, goods and financial aid.
The Islamist Hamas movement, which has controlled Gaza since 2007, disapproves of what it considers un-Islamic shows, such as Arab Idol, but has not officially clamped down on support for Arab Idol or Assaf, according to AFP.
Rocket of peace
In a previous episode of the program, popular Lebanese singer and jury member Ragheb Alama had described Assaf as “the best rocket” to have come out of Gaza, and as “a rocket of peace, not war,” according to AFP.
Announcing Assaf’s nomination as regional ambassador for youth minutes after his win, the agency’s chief Filippo Grandi said: “All Palestinians share in his success. Mohammed’s music is a universal language and speaks to all of us. How fantastic that a Palestine refugee from Gaza should bring us all together in this way.”