Mohammed Assaf celebrates ‘Palestine Day’ at U.N. headquarters

U.N. officially named Assaf a regional youth ambassador for Palestinian refugees

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Palestinian vocalist Mohammad Assaf, this year’s winner of “Arab Idol,” celebrated Monday the International Day of ‎Solidarity with the Palestinian People together with high profile U.N. officials in New York.

Assaf, 23, was born in Libya to Palestine refugee parents and was largely raised in the Khan Younis camp on the Gaza Strip.

“In Gaza, children like me grow in an environment laden with challenges and in an unbelievable way. Many of our parents suffer to find job opportunities or strive hard to put some food on the table,” Assaf said in his U.N. address.

“There are also the struggle, the isolation and the blockade. Sometimes it seems as if there is no escape,” he added.

Since 2007, Israel has imposed a land, air and sea blockade on the Gaza Strip, compelling Palestinians to dig underground tunnels to smuggle necessary goods from across the border.

After winning the “Arab Idol” contest, Assaf was named as goodwill ambassador for peace by The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in June.

On Monday UNRWA, however, officially tasked him with assisting Palestinian refugees across the Middle East after making him the regional youth ambassador for the U.N. agency.

UNRWA Commissioner General, Filippo Grandi, said Assaf shows a personal commitment to Palestinian refugees and the U.N. agency.

“On behalf of everybody at UNRWA, I send warmest congratulations to Mohammad and his family,” the United Nations reported Grandi as saying on its website.

“All Palestinians share in his success. Mohammad’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,” he added.

Assaf said he was “truly honored” to receive the title as a self-proclaimed “son of Palestine” and a “son of UNRWA” who attended UNRWA schools and whose mother is an UNRWA teacher.

“All my good memories of the UNRWA school in Khan Younis in Gaza, where I had the opportunity to study and grow, are still very fresh.”

U.N. Chief Ban ki-Moon and other officials warmly congratulated Assaf.

The singer was joined by another Palestinian talent, Naye al-Barghouthi, who also performed at the U.N. headquarters.

Music from a country, which was recognized only last year as a non-permanent state at the United Nations by an overwhelming majority, entertained the attendees and enthralled some, who had to take to the stage and dance the Palestinian traditional step dance called “dabke.”

While the U.N. celebrated the day to show its support for Palestine, John W. Ashe, the Co-chair of the Bureau for the Preparatory Process of the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development - representing the Latin American and the Caribbean Group - proposed that 2014 should be declared as the international year of solidarity with the Palestinian people.