Palestine Vision: An Astonishing Night of Music at the Tabernacle in Notting Hill as an Alternative to the Tainted Eurovision Song Contest


Photos from ‘Palestine Vision.’ Clockwise from top L: Dr. Abdelfattah Abusrour, Bashar Murad, Tamer Nafar and Yaz (Photos: Andy Worthington).

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On Tuesday evening (May 7), I was humbled, honoured and privileged to attend ‘Palestine Vision’, an evening of Palestinian music at the Tabernacle in Notting Hill, London W11, which featured Palestinian musicians from the global diaspora of Palestinian refugees, as well as performances by Palestinian musicians flown in from the Occupied Territories, and from Israel itself. The programme is available here.

Sadly, but understandably, there were no musicians from the Gaza Strip, essentially because those musicians who have not been murdered by Israel since October 7 — as part of targeted bombings aimed specifically at cultural figures, or via the ceaseless and indiscriminate carpet bombing — are trapped in what, for many years, has been described as an “open-air prison”, but which, since Israel’s genocide began seven months ago, has become the world’s largest concentration camp.

The event was organized by the Bethlehem Cultural Festival, established in 2020, and was specifically labeled as an alternative to the Eurovision Song Contest, timed to coincide with Eurovision’s first round of semi-finals, prior to the grand final this Saturday, in Malmö, Sweden, in which, disgracefully, Israel is taking part, despite being engaged in a genocide of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip.

The hypocrisy of the Eurovision organizers is, frankly, unforgivable, as, in 2022, Russia was banned almost immediately after its invasion of Ukraine, even though Israel’s slaughter of civilians in Gaza is of a scale and intensity that far exceeds the savagery of Russia’s attacks.

The event was also a fundraiser for UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), the main humanitarian aid agency for the Palestinian people, which the Israeli government tried to shut down in January, just after the ICJ (International Court Of Justice) issued provisional measures against Israel in connection with what the Court ruled to be a “plausible genocide” taking place in the Gaza Strip. Israel responded by alleging that a handful of UNRWA workers were involved with Hamas, prompting numerous western countries to immediately withdraw their funding for the agency, despite Israel failing to provide any evidence whatsoever to justify its claims.

After introductions by Dr. Abdelfattah Abusrour, the director of the Alrowwad Centre for Arts and Culture in Palestine, which was established in 1998 in the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, and Ahmed Najar, a London-based playwright and director from Gaza, the first performer was El Far3i (Tareq Abu Kwaik), a Palestinian-Jordanian singer and rapper, now based in London, whose family was exiled from Palestine in the Nakba of 1948, when 700,000 Palestinians were displaced and exiled during the blood-soaked founding of the State of Israel.

El Far3i at ‘Palestine Vision’, May 7, 2024 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

A former member of the Jordan-based Arabic rock band El Morabba3, he is currently a member of 47Soul, who are on tour throughout Europe this summer, and who play Shamstep (electronic dance music influenced by the traditional Dabke folk music of the Levant). He has also released six solo albums, and his passionate performance on Tuesday, with just an electro-acoustic guitar, set the highly-charged emotional tone for the rest of the evening.

Faris Ishaq, a master of the traditional Nay flute, who is based in occupied East Jerusalem, but also regularly spends time in London, then enchanted the crowd with the poignant sonic soundscapes for which he has become known, taking the traditional Egyptian wooden flutes into uncharted territory, “developing a unique sound that crosses over Jazz, Indian Classical Music and other world music traditions, while stretching the musical capacity of its expression from melodic to percussive and harmonic sounds”, as his website explains.

Faris Ishaq at ‘Palestine Vision’, May 7, 2024 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

Next up was Yaz, a 22-year old Palestinian singer born in France, but who is now based in south east London. As her bio explains, “She grew up listening to a lot of Arabic traditional songs and jazz”, and “tends to mix both genres in her song choices and lyrics, taking influences from artists such as Fairouz, Yebba and icons of chansons françaises.” With a wonderful voice and a mesmerising presence, backed by a young group of talented international London musicians, her set was inspiring, and if you’re in London she and her band are worth watching out for.

Yaz at ‘Palestine Vision’, May 7, 2024 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

When Bashar Murad took to the stage, he immediately got the crowd on their feet. The son of Said Murad, a founding member of the influential Palestinian band Sabreen, formed in 1980, Bashar is, quite clearly, a bona fide pop star, bringing the plight of the Palestinians to the world’s attention through infectious dance music (2021’s ‘Intifada on the Dance Floor’, for example), and featuring in 2019 on a song by Icelandic techno-punks Hatari, who caused controversy at the Eurovision finals in Tel Aviv that year by raising Palestinian flags during their performance. Earlier this year, he was invited to compete to be Iceland’s entry in this year’s Eurovision, but was very narrowly beaten into second place by a weaker entry that was then rejected in Tuesday’s semi-finals.

Bashar Murad at ‘Palestine Vision’, May 7, 2024, with his musical partner, the Icelandic drummer and producer Einar Stefansson (Photo: Andy Worthington).

Now largely based in Paris, Bashar, who is openly gay, was born and raised in occupied East Jerusalem, but is now taking his message of politically-charged dance music around the world. On Tuesday, he sang a poignant version of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, changing one of the verses to reflect the realities of occupation and apartheid in occupied Palestine, with the opening lines, “Imagine there’s no checkpoints”, available on X here, and also put to music ‘If I Must Die’, the heartbreaking poem by Refaat Alareer, a celebrated and much-loved poet and academic, based in the Gaza Strip, who was deliberately targeted and murdered by Israel in December.

I recorded the whole of his moving rendition of Refaat’s poem, which is posted below, via YouTube:

Next up was Noor XO, a Chicago-based 19 year-old Palestinian-Jordanian, who is making waves in the city’s R&B scene, although I have to say that she didn’t quite seem to rise to the occasion, and there was also a video of the Dubai-based Palestinian-Jordanian singer Lina Sleibi singing her version of ’Somewhere Over The Rainbow’, before the evening reached a fitting finale with the arrival of Tamer Nafar.

A towering presence in the Palestinian hip-hop scene, Tamer Nafar is from Lyd, renamed by Israel as Lod, a mixed Arab-Israeli city, from which between 50,000 and 70,000 Palestinians were expelled during the Nakba, where he grew up in poverty, and where drugs and crime were rife. Emerging as a rapper in the late 1990s, he was a founder member of the first Palestinian hip-hop group DAM, whose politically charged music has provided a soundtrack to the suffering of Palestinians in the 21st century.

Tamer Nafar at ‘Palestine Vision’, May 7, 2024 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

Although Tamer is an actor, screenwriter and activist, and recently wrote a moving article for the Guardian about the death of his uncle, in which he reflected, from the vantage point of being in his 40s, looking back on “the self-centred young rapper” he was at the start of his career, his arrival on stage, after videos of his songs had been playing on the screen behind him, was electrifying, and he seemed, very vividly, to personify the harsh reality of resistance to the brutal Israeli occupation on the streets of Lyd or the Occupied Territories.

Perhaps I was projecting onto him, as the opening scenes of the video of ‘Go There’ played behind him, in which, with his wife and child, he was posing for a photo in the family’s kitchen before suddenly, and with jaw-dropping violence, gunshots killed them all, but he seemed to bring with him the full weight of Israel’s generational genocidal violence, still, of course, horrifically taking place in the Gaza Strip.

As he repeatedly asked the sound engineer to turn up the backing track, and to turn down his vocals, to amplify the power of the music, I couldn’t help feeling that we, in the audience, were all rather too comfortable and complacent in our safe western homeland, with its lack of violence and its largely empty streets, which, for some reason that I couldn’t explain, are not overrun with children, as Gaza so memorably was before Israel’s unforgivable infanticide began in earnest.

Tamer Nafar at ‘Palestine Vision’, May 7, 2024 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

As the venue’s 10pm deadline loomed, Tamer at least had time to perform around five numbers, fully immersing us in the grief and anger of Israel’s monstrous and damnable crimes, before the curtain metaphorically fell, and we all left to process what we had just witnessed over the previous two and a half hours.

Downstairs, a reggae jam was taking place in the foyer of this fine Afro-Caribbean venue, a former church rescued from oblivion the 1970s, when it was used in the preparations for the annual Notting Hill Carnival, but I couldn’t stick around to enjoy it. My head was full of Palestine, its suffering, the beauty of its people, and their extraordinary fortitude.

May they one day — and one day soon — finally be free.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer (of an ongoing photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London’), film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (see the ongoing photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.50).

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and, in 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to try to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody.

Since 2019, Andy has become increasingly involved in environmental activism, recognizing that climate change poses an unprecedented threat to life on earth, and that the window for change — requiring a severe reduction in the emission of all greenhouse gases, and the dismantling of our suicidal global capitalist system — is rapidly shrinking, as tipping points are reached that are occurring much quicker than even pessimistic climate scientists expected. You can read his articles about the climate crisis here.

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9 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, my review of, and photos from ‘Palestine Vision’, an extraordinary evening of Palestinian music at the Tabernacle in Notting Hill in London on May 7, taking place to protest against Israel’s inclusion in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

    Amongst many other performers, the event included an electrifying appearance by Palestinian hip-hop legend Tamer Nafar, and a moving set by rising pop star Bashar Murad, who set to music the poem ‘If I Must Die’ by the much-loved poet and academic Refaat Alareer, who was targeted and murdered by Israel in Gaza in December. My video of Bashar’s musical version of Refaat’s poem is included.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Kären Ahern wrote:

    Thank you, Andy. I hope everyone listens to “If I Must Die”. Glad the lyrics were included.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I hope so too, Kären. It was very powerful. There should be a full recording of the entire event available in the next few weeks, so hopefully that will help it reach a wider audience.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalia Rivera Scott wrote:

    Israel should be excluded from everything, from Eurovision, FIFA, The Olympics … everything.
    Thank you for this article, Andy!

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, the double standards and hypocrisy are overwhelming, Natalia. Eurovision is struggling to contain dissent, with the Greek entrant pretending to fall asleep during a press conference today attended by the Israeli, with the Serbian entrant saying, “Every country deserves to be free” (to cheers), and with the Dutch entrant apparently banned after he said “why not?” after a reporter asked the Israeli entrant about the safety of the event with Israel included. The Eurovision host, sitting next to her, treating her as though she was some kind of victim, said, “you don’t need to answer that.”

    The atmosphere seems very sour, as it should be when the best analogy for it is the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Unless Israel are disowned, they’re also going to complete sour forthcoming sporting events, including the Olympics.

    The western countries complicit in Israel’s genocide are in uncharted waters, apparently content to destroy everything for the sake of a rogue state engaged in a genocide.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalia Rivera Scott wrote:

    But still no important action is being taken, Andy.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    The only good thing, I think, Natalia, is that the atmosphere backstage seems oppressive, as it should when every effort is being made by the organizers to pretend that there isn’t a genocide supporter in their midst. It seems very much to reflect what it’s like living in the majority of western countries these days, and how intolerable the efforts to suppress dissent are. If this whole apparatus of requiring support for Israel, and being told that criticizing those responsible for a genocide is antisemitic isn’t repudiated, we’re very clearly heading towards a police state scenario, in which unscrupulous leaders will definitely use the success of their suppression of free speech via Israel to curtail criticism of themselves. Fascism through prioritizing a foreign country above our own.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Natalia Rivera Scott wrote:

    I agree with you, Andy. You always find the good thing. I hope more good things come soon, now with all the pressure of the pro-Palestinian activists around the planet.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    It’s a critical time for most of the countries of the Global North, Natalia, as the influence of the Global South grows. Very pleased today that a huge majority of countries in the UN General Assembly passed a resolution supporting Palestinian membership, isolating the US and Israel more than ever.

    I’m glad you think that I “always find the good thing.” It reassures me that I’m fundamentally hopeful, despite all the reasons not to be. But it really is crucial in the western countries supporting Israel’s genocide that the enormous pressure from governments and the media to compel obedience to Israel is defeated, or we really will be on the road to fascism. It’s that fundamental.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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