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“Arab Idol” hopes to inspire Palestinian refugees

November 27, 2013

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — This year’s “Arab Idol” winner, Mohammed Assaf, who grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp in Gaza, said Tuesday he wants to give hope to the nearly 5 million Palestinian refugees and tell them nothing is impossible.

The 24-year-old singer told a news conference Tuesday that as the first Arab goodwill ambassador for youth for the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees he feels “the load of responsibility” for speaking on behalf of young Palestinians.

“I want to do something ... for the cause of my country, for the cause of my people,” he said, “and I want to make them feel there is hope, no matter how hard the conditions of life and the obstacles.”

Assaf came to New York to participate in events related to the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People and appeared in a U.N. concert Monday night with Palestinian vocalist and flutist Nai Barghouti. When he sang his signature anthem to Palestinian nationalism, “Raise the Kaffiyeh,” many in the audience got to their feet and started dancing.

The singer with a silky voice, who grew up in Gaza’s Khan Younis refugee camp, almost didn’t get to compete in “American Idol.” He had to plead with Hamas to let him leave Gaza, he said, then bribe Egyptian border guards to let him enter the country. A fellow Palestinian who had heard him sing at school and weddings, gave up his slot during the audition phase because he believed Assaf had a better voice and a better chance at winning.

Winning the “Arab Idol” competition gave Assaf a record deal, and while in the U.S. he has been promoting his first album.

“I would like in my career to focus on my talent as an artist and leave my mark — leave my fingerprint in the field of entertainment and art,” Assaf said.

He said he wants to tell his fellow Palestinians that “with ambition, with determination, with creativity and with art ... one can seert a goal and achieve it,” he said.

Assaf said he wants to go back to Gaza soon to see his parents who were unable to get visas to travel to the U.S. to see him perform at the U.N. — “to see the place that I got to.”

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