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Was Mohammed Assaf’s invitation to Brazil cancelled?

Mohammed Assaf, the Palestinian winner of Arab Idol, expresses his views in more measured terms than many pro-Palestinian activists.

‘There  are many ways to make a difference in life, but my way is as an artist,” said Assaf, a graduate of Palestine University who has just become a UN youth ambassador. “I’ve always wanted to make my voice heard around the world, to sing about the occupation, about the security walls between communities, and about refugees. My first ambition is a cultural revolution through art. Palestinians don’t want war – they are tired of fighting.”

Assaf is, more specifically, calling for a return to Palestine’s 1967 borders, as well as articulating peace demands which include guaranteed security from attack, freedom of movement, an end to illegal Israeli settlements and the return of prisoners and refugees. “The subject of peace is massively complicated,” said Assaf. “The Palestinians want independence and freedom, just like everyone in the world. Thousands of us are professionals – teachers, doctors and lawyers. We all want our dignity and rights.”

It is now being reported that Assaf has had his invitation to sing at the Brazil World Cup withdrawn.

He said at a press conference earlier this week that he was supposed to sing at the show kicking off the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, but that because of some “countries” or “groups” — no one was specified — his record company was told this won’t happen after all.

However there is confusion over this story, with some pointing out that it’s not clear that Assaf was invited in  the first place.

Some responses on Mondoweiss were predictable:

Well, we all know who the unknown parties and countries are! The long arm of Zionism reaches everywhere I see.

This was more interesting:

Video of recent interview with Assaf from Gaza, in which he describes that he has been disinvited and about Shakira. In it he says that he sang all over the world since Arab Idol except in his native Gaza and he wished the people in the audience would put in a good word for him with the “brothers” to get him the needed permission. He also mentioned that he had obtained the OK from the Ministry of Culture to sing at the FIFA but when that ministry forwarded that request to the Ministry of the Interior to grant its permission, something happened there that caused him to be disinvited. From his hinting, I felt he was pointing a finger at Hamas as much as at Israel. He announced that Arab Idol will be holding auditions this coming season at Ramallah and that he’d help all those that want to go there.

Finally – whatever the real story is here, Assaf has some fans in Israel as well. Here are some extracts from an open letter to the singer from a young Israeli:

You may think we are not alike. True. We were raised an hour away from each other, but lived light-years apart: you in Gaza City and me in Jerusalem. At many crossroads, we took different paths. At 20 you sang at weddings, whereas I was serving in the Israeli Defence Forces. However, we have much in common: we are both young, we have seen too much blood and we both call this piece of land home.

You are the most beloved young Palestinian today. When you sang in the Arab Idol finals, you charmed Arabs and non-Arabs worldwide. I wanted to write to you because for people in Ramallah and Khan-Yunis you are not only charming, you are a source of hope — rare commodities for all of us living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

You have all the reasons in the world to be pessimistic. US Secretary of State John Kerry is now trying to bring the Israeli and Palestinian sides together to resume negotiations. But you and I know that almost everyone at home just rolls their eyes whenever someone mentions the word peace. Who can blame them? Time and again, our leaders have disappointed us in their inability to make brave decisions and take a step towards reconciliation.

Mabruk, or as we say in Hebrew, mazal tov (congratulations).