Arab Idol winner performs at UN to mark 'International Day of Solidarity with Palestinians'

Assaf was recently appointed a goodwill ambassador and regional youth ambassador for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

November 26, 2013 20:58
3 minute read.
Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf

Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf. (photo credit: Reuters)


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NEW YORK -- Mohammed Assaf, 23, the much-lauded Arab Idol winner from Gaza, graced the United Nations with his presence on Monday night at a special concert marking the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.

16-year-old composer, floutist and singer Nai Barghouti, known for being outspoken against Israelis in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, also performed. She dedicated her songs to "all the Palestinian refugees that are hoping to go back to their homelands," and finished her set by singing the American protest song "We Shall Overcome," that was the anthem of the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Assaf, who is currently on tour in the US, sang four songs in his smooth tenor voice, and addressed the audience briefly in Arabic, telling them how honored he was to be performing at the UN. Assaf was recently appointed a goodwill ambassador and regional youth ambassador for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

At a press conference on Tuesday morning at the UN, Assaf talked about the difficulties of travel for Palestinians (he himself is traveling on a blue UN passport), and touched on other hardships of living in Gaza, but did not directly mention Israel or Israeli actions.

Outgoing commissioner general of UNRWA Filippo Grandi addressed the mid-sized but very full UN chamber everyone from UN dignitaries to small children Monday night. Grandi called Assaf "a very gracious, very effective, and very eloquent ambassador for this people, for young Palestinians, and for all refugees."

Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour told the audience that the concert is intended to show "a different dimension of the life of the Palestinian people."

"We are not only good political fighters who can organize our people to succeed, hopefully, soon, in putting an end to the Israeli occupation, and allow for the independence of our state, but we are musicians, we are scientists, we are doctors," he said.

Mansour also addressed the General Assembly earlier on Monday, thanking the member states for their support in the passage of resolution 67/19, which upgraded the mission's status to non-member observer in November 2012.

Mansour also thanked the numerous UN agencies devoted to helping Palestinian refugees. "The international political, humanitarian, financial, and moral support extended over the decades has helped to sustain the Palestinian people and bolster their resilience as they have confronted innumerable hardships in exile and under occupation, while awaiting the realization of their inalienable rights, justice and peace," Mansour said. He too called the situation on the ground "critical" and called on Israel to cease their "illegal and destructive actions."

Other dignitaries also released statements throughout the day on Monday and Tuesday. UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon called the current situation of the Palestinians "critical" and said he is "alarmed by the increasingly dangerous situation on the ground."

"Although I welcome Israel’s release of prisoners as part of the agreement to renew talks, its settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territory continues, and remains a cause for very grave concern," Ban said. He went on to express his support for the two-state solution, including an end to "the occupation that started in 1967" and the division of Jerusalem.

Monday night's concert was sponsored jointly by UNRWA, the Palestinian Permanent Observer Mission, and the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. Assaf will address the press on Tuesday morning, November 26. November 29 will be the 35th annual International Day of Solidarity.

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