Mohammad Shaaban | 17-01-2021
Being an artist isn’t only about putting a pencil on a paper, a brush on canvas or words to tunes. Art is a way to share our stories, our souls across time and space. Art is the universal language of love, desire, pain and yearning. That's why art is vital to our lives.
My dream is to be a singer whose voice reaches far beyond the borders of my home. I know that will be hard, but it’s not impossible. Having talent means I have a special gift—and that inspires me to keep struggling.
I was born in a village called Jabalia in Gaza. Early on, I was passionate about nature. I drew my first picture—of happy children on a beach—when I was 10 years old. In sixth grade, I scored third place in a drawing competition called "Al-Quds [Jerusalem] in our Eyes.” That gave me the confidence to keep drawing.
When I was 11, however, the foundation of my life shifted, like it had been hit by a massive earthquake. It was December 2008. On the first day of final exams at school, Israel launched 21 days of devastating airstrikes against Gaza. Returning from school on that first day, I found all of neighbors out on my small street, waiting in panic for their sons and daughters. The sounds of bombs became louder every minute, along with the wail of children. Finally, I reached my own family. The eyes of my 9-year-old sister were wide as she told me, “I don't want to stay at home. I want to go to my grandmother's. Our house is dancing!"
Over the following three weeks, 1,436 of my people were massacred, including 410 children, 104 women and about 100 elderly people. More than 5,400 others, half of them children, were injured, according to Al-Aqsa news agency.
I no longer drew nature or joyful children. My drawings focused on warplanes, tanks and destruction. Later, when the assault was over, I tried to draw beach scenes again, to convince myself that violence was not my world. But those days were over.
In 2012, I was invited to travel with a group of Palestinian cultural group to Syria. However, that was also when Israel launched its second aggression on Gaza. Our trip was cancelled. When that war was over, it took with it my dream of travel.
When I was 15, I discovered I had another talent: my voice. I used to sing tunes at home, but now I entered a school talent show. I still remember the first song I sang in school, called "Tell Me Why," about the need for everyone to give each other a helping hand. Teachers and students praised my voice, so I started practicing. My songs were mainly about home, resistance and religion. One of my favorites was the traditional song “Ya Zareef Altool,” about refugees in exile.
Then, in 2014 came the third and most recent Israeli war on Gaza—51 days that killed 2,322 Palestinians, including 578 children, 489 women and 102 elderly people. Another 10,870 others were injured. My songs turned increasingly to resistance and sorrow.
This pattern of dreaming interrupted by violence has made me question whether I should stop dreaming of being an artist. But even though I live in the biggest prison in the world, I have decided to continue to develop my talent. I have written more than 20 songs, most of them about humanity, dreams and a longing for peace.
Through my music, I try to convey the reality of my home to the rest of the world. Gaza has been trapped in Israel’s suffocating siege for more than 14 years, but we still believe peace will prevail one day. Most of all, singing makes me feel free, and that’s the dream of every Palestinian.
Posted: January 17, 2021
Mentor: Kate Casa