Sunday, August 22, 2004

Something Positive Comes from Palestine

A moving story about a guy named Ammar Hassan, a Palestinian who is a finalist in a sort of "Pop Idol" for the Arab world. Mr Hassan displays an uncommon amount of common sense about both his personal situation and how best to go about pleading his people's case before the wider world; his is a level of awareness that is sorely lacking throughout the Palestinian "leadership", whether it be Arafat's gang of thugs and kleptocrats or the fanatical murderers of Hamas we're talking about.

SALFIT, West Bank, Aug. 20 - The Palestinians are engaged in an intifada against Israel, a political challenge to Yasir Arafat, a hunger strike by prisoners in Israeli jails, and in meeting regular incursions by Israeli troops into Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

But Palestinians are utterly consumed by the fate of Ammar Hasan, 26, who will compete Sunday night in Lebanon against a Libyan in the final of a televised contest to be named the Arab world's finest singer.

Mr. Hasan, who lives in this village, has received a telephone call of support from Mr. Arafat, and some Palestinian women bear his poster the way they might one of a martyr to the intifada. Many West Bank towns and villages are setting up large televisions or screens in city centers so that everyone can watch the finals of "Super Star 2," a hugely successful production of the Lebanese satellite station Al Mustaqbal, or Future Television, which is owned by the Lebanese prime minister, Rafik al-Hariri.

The Palestinian mobile telephone company Jawwal has offered a 20 percent discount on text messages so people can vote for Mr. Hasan, while rumors spread throughout the West Bank and Gaza that the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, is offering free telephone calls and investing millions to defeat the Palestinian champion in league with the Syrians, whose champion lost out in last Sunday's semifinals.

Mr. Hasan's father, Hasan Ahmed Daqrouq, 63, just out of the hospital for a heart tremor and sitting in a small room festooned with posters and photos of his son, is overwhelmed with pride. His mother, Itidal, raptly watches a tape of her son from an earlier round, when he sang a moody, moving song about Jerusalem that was first made famous by the Lebanese singer Fayrouz. Men and women in the audience wept and waved the Palestinian flag.

"Palestinians, wherever they are, they see Ammar as an ambassador for them," Mr. Daqrouq said. "The Palestinian people are not just throwing stones and bombs. In the struggle we have educated people - doctors, intellectuals, musicians - and we have a singer. Ammar, too, is a defender of the people."

Mr. Daqrouq can sound a touch defensive. But the focus on Mr. Hasan has produced political criticism, too, from Palestinian militants who think his celebrity is diverting attention from the important issues of the Palestinian struggle, like the prisoners' strike, Israel's security barrier and the intifada.

Hamas in particular has condemned the singing contest as trivial and a harmful diversion from real problems. Hamas criticized Jawwal and the Palestinian Ministry of Culture for not allocating money instead to support prisoners and victims "instead of the Super Star program that contradicts Islamic values."

Mr. Daqrouq, however, is dismissive. "Hamas should look to itself first," he said. (emphasis added)
Mr. Daqrouq also gets it: being able to show the world that Palestinians are real human beings like the rest of us would do far more to gain their cause a sympathetic hearing than yet another murderous attack on civilians that inspires hatred and revulsion. Do these people really imagine that if the likes of Nelson Mandela had projected the image that Arafat and Hamas do, some equally repulsive successor to P.W. Botha wouldn't still be running a South African apartheid state?
... Mr. Hasan's cousin, Nizar Daqrouq, is troubled by the competing furor over "Super Star."

He is running Salfit's committee to support the prisoners, and in a storefront covered with photos of the 38 sons of Salfit who are in Israeli detention, he is clearly upset. "With respect to Ammar and his voice, all this comes at the wrong time for Palestine," he said. "It draws people's attention from the prisoners and the struggle. We believe the arts should be part of our struggle; it should be committed art."

But Mr. Hasan himself, speaking in a telephone interview from Lebanon, rejects such criticism. He knows he has become a symbol of the Palestinians, but he wants to show the world the broader culture of a civilized people.

"I want to reflect a human image of the Palestinian people, that despite all the difficulties we face, we exist, that there are people like me, and that creativity is our weapon," he said with some heat.

"It's good to be committed to a cause, but don't make it a slogan," he said. The prisoners are an important issue, "much more important than what I'm doing," he said. "But the occupation is not afraid of kids throwing stones. The occupation is afraid of scientists, intellectuals and musicians who reflect the humanity and express the message of the people."

When he was at school in Salfit, he said, he threw stones at Israeli soldiers and saw how his classmates welcomed it as a way to avoid school. "Do you think throwing stones will lead to victory?" he asked. "There is no victory with ignorance. Let's educate our children and plant the seeds of hope and humanity in their hearts."
Mr. Hassan is an unusually reflective young man for any place and time, let alone under the conditions that reign in the Occupied Territories. All of the ongoing violence allows the Palestinians the freedom to entertain the delusion that if only they should someday achieve the autonomy they claim to desire, the promised land of milk and honey will arise automatically with no further effort required on their part, as if Israel were the sole reason there were suffering and privation in the world. The unfortunate reality is that by using their children as instruments in the "struggle" instead of educating them for the days beyond it, they're sowing the seeds of the very same sort of discontent that is currently riling South Africa thanks to its "lost generation" of illiterate, violent and unemployable youths; they too thought they were aiding the "struggle" by cutting school to throw rocks at policemen, but though they can now vote, what else do they really have to show for the education they missed out on? But at least the young South Africans weren't encouraged to throw their own lives away while killing innocents on the other side.