Palestinian cities erupted in joy after Gazan singer Mohammed Assaf won the “Arab Idol” song contest final held in Beirut on Saturday night, providing a welcome break from the grinding conflict with Israel.
The fresh-faced 22-year-old from humble roots in a refugee camp endeared millions of voting television viewers with his Palestinian patriotic anthems and folk songs.
After watching Assaf’s victory from giant screens in the Gaza Strip and Israeli-occupied West Bank, tens of thousands of Palestinians set off fireworks, danced in the streets and blasted his music from cars idling in frantic traffic jams.
“This shows that Palestinians don’t just fight and struggle, but we rejoice and make great art,” beamed Awad Najib, a government employee, after a mass viewing outside the Ramallah presidential palace in the West Bank.
Some Muslim clerics in Friday sermons had dismissed the pageant, saying its title encouraged idolatry and that people’s energies would be better spent confronting Israel’s occupation.