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Presence, or a star is born

Contributed by Toine Van Teeffelen on 06.03.2017:

Toine van Teeffelen



On Saturday Ya’coub Shaheen was cheerfully welcomed in Bethlehem and Ramallah. After his performance in Arab Idols in Beirut he shook not only the hands of VIPs but visited and performed in several Palestinian refugee camps near Beirut, together with his co-contestant Amir Dandan from Majd al-Krum in the Galilee. The people in the camps always long to see people coming from Palestine, we hear. And like a week ago it was again street feast in Bethlehem with Syriac-Orthodox and Palestinian flags and Ya’coub on the shoulders. People took a break from the usually depressive news of the moment. (For instance, only in the month of February 420 Palestinians were detained by the forces of the Israeli occupation – a figure from Maan News Agency to give thought to).

Large banners with the image of Ya’coub decorated apartment blocks. Commerce took care of him. Many local companies covered the 3,5 shekels (almost a Euro) which each SMS vote costed. Many millions of votes seemed to have been cast for him. Christian and Moslem votes came from Palestine – also from a Moslem city like Hebron, where he studied – and from the Arab world as well as Arab communities across the world.

It is a fact that where Palestinian politics does not succeed to unify Palestinians, Ya’coub succeeded. At Idols he gave voice to a range of identities. He moved, for instance, from a Syriac-Orthodox song to Palestinian songs (including Ween ‘a Ramallah, “Where in Ramallah,” a well-known schlager here), then to a newly composed Arab song about “damned wars,” sung together with other contestants.

Not unimportant: Ya’coub is much appreciated among those who know him personally. He performs for benefit concerts without payment. He comes across as a kind person. He told the crowd at Nativity Square that money and fame would not change him, he would remain a ‘son of Bethlehem.’

You feel that his triumph fostered a sense of dignity and presence among Palestinian Christians.

Lately Mary saw an elderly Palestinian-Christian man on the street who started a talk with her. He had built a very large house in Bethlehem with the intention that it would be taken over by his children. But his five children all left for the US. He and his wife had brought them up, he said, but they left, and his children would perhaps have to sell the house.

Mary could identify with him. Presence is more than the fact to be physically in a place. It is also about being connected with others of the same background and a shared, often unspoken feeling of dignity and pride in the heritage. These feelings among Palestinian Christians came all back with Ya’coub, at least for the moment.

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