Arab musicians' songs about Gaza put spotlight on Palestinian issues

From pathos to praise of Hamas, songs written by musicians across the Middle East in response to Israel's offensive in Gaza are putting the Palestinian issue back at the forefront of Arab popular culture.

The music mixes defiance, helplessness and anger over the war being waged by Israel on Hamas, the Palestinian group that governs the Gaza Strip.

In Cairo, the popular Egyptian wedding singer known as Rudy takes requests for her new lyrics praising Hamas military spokesman Abu Obaida.

"Abu Obaida, O Lion-Hearted … set them all ablaze,” she belts out to a percussive beat.

In Jordan, artists from different Arab states gathered in October to record a song dreaming of a Palestinian “return” to lands occupied by Israel. It has been viewed millions of times on social media.

The rise in popularity of songs that sympathise with the Palestinians or encourage Hamas - including by artists who generally avoid politics - reflects anger over Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, its occupation of Palestinian territory and US and European support for its military campaign.

It also shows the support among Arab people for Hamas and for armed opposition as Israel tries to eradicate the group.

Hamas killed 1,200 people and took 253 hostage in an attack on Israel on Oct 7, according to Israeli tallies. Nearly 30,000 Palestinians have been confirmed killed in Israel's military retaliation, Gaza health officials say.

The conflict has proved divisive worldwide and ignited broader cultural battles.

The annual Eurovision song contest, billed as a non-political event, has been marred by controversy over Israel's entry mentioning the Oct 7 attack.

Vitriolic debates on US university campuses have affected the careers of some staff, and students have accused each other of antisemitism and Islamophobia.

In Israel, artists have also produced songs about Oct 7. Some reflect on the suffering of victims, others are vengeful.

One music video features a survivor of a Hamas attack on a music festival on Oct 7. Another, produced by Israeli rapper Subliminal, shows residential blocks in Gaza being flattened by airstrikes while Israeli tanks and snipers prepare for war.

KEYS AND KUFFIYAHS

In Arab societies, a vast majority of people see the war as a Western-backed assault on Palestinian civilians.

Wedding singer Rudy said watching Israeli attacks left her feeling helpless and wanting to sing in support of Hamas.

At many weddings where she performs, attendees ask her to sing about Gaza, including her song about Abu Obaida, who became a regular feature on Arab news channels after the war began, appearing masked in videos to read out Hamas statements.

“Abu Obaida - we see him as a hero who stands up against Israel. There are children dying and he is standing up to defend them,” Rudy said.

Lebanese rapper Jaafar Touffar also raps about Abu Obaida and the Aqsa Flood - the name Hamas gave its Oct 7 assault - and says “more is coming” to Israel.

A poll by the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies in Qatar in January showed 67% of 8,000 respondents saw the Oct 7 attack as a “legitimate resistance operation” against occupation.

Only 5% said it was an “illegitimate” attack. Three-quarters viewed the US and Israel as the biggest threats to regional security and stability.

In Saudi Arabia, a poll by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy showed 96% of respondents believed Arab countries should cut all ties with Israel.

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt