Jehad Shehada, a 23-year-old engineering student, is the top vote-getter in We Are Not Numbers’ Gazavision song contest—the Palestinian response to Eurovision 2019, which culminated today in Tel Aviv. A video of Shehad performing his winning song was showcased today in Globalvision, an international response to Gazavision.
“Jehad is an excellent representative of the 2 million Gaza Palestinians, who have been living under Israeli blockade for more than 12 years,” said Issam Adwan, special projects coordinator for We Are Not Numbers, at a news conference in Gaza City. “His father struggles to support a family of 10 on almost no salary, and he has never been able to travel beyond the borders of our prison. And yet, he is a top student in biomedical engineering and has a voice that touches the heart of all who hear him sing. He symbolizes the potential Gaza’s youth could have if they were allowed to prosper.”
We Are Not Numbers organized Gazavision as a peaceful protest to the decision to hold this year’s Eurovision contest in the commercial heart of Israel, which has colonized and controlled Palestinians and Palestinian land for more than 70 years.
“We stand here today on the rubble of what used to be a residential and office building [the building that housed the Andalou news agency, bombed May 6 by Israeli forces],” said Rana Shubair, a writer for We Are Not Numbers. “This is the product of Israeli war planes. Two weeks ago, Israeli war planes bombed this building and about 100 more, killing 25 people—including pregnant women and children. To the east, as we speak, Israel is hosting Eurovision. But we have a few questions for the contestants: What are you celebrating?For whom and for whatare you singing?By standing on the stage in Tel Aviv, you are singing to Israel so it can keep bombing and blockading 2 million people. We want you to know that no song or dance can whitewash our oppression.”
We Are Not Numbers was founded in 2015 as a storytelling project, designed to coach youth in Gaza on shaping and sharing their narratives in a fashion that touches the hearts and minds of the Western world. The written word was the project’s first chosen “weapon,” but now is expanding into every form of art, including videography, photography, paint—and now the voice.
More than 25 singers from across Gaza entered Gazavision. A panel of judges from the Edward Said Music Conservatory winnowed the list of entrants to six finalists: Shehad, Ahmed al-Daoor, Ahmed Tafesh, Ghada Shoman, Hashem Aljarousha and Mohammed Annan.
Over the last week, more than 3,500 people from around the world read their stories and listened to their voices. Shehada received the most votes.
“However, although every contest has to have a winner, Jehad and his fellow contestants sang for Palestine, and thus for each other,” said Adwan, just before all of the contestants joined together to sing Mawtini, a song known as the Palestinian anthem. “We hope to provide an example for our political leaders by affirming today that even when we compete against each other, we always remember we are stronger together.”
As the lyrics say:
My homeland, my homeland,
We youth will not tire, 'till your independence
Or we die, or we die.
My homeland, my homeland,
The sword and the pen, not the talk nor the quarrel
Are our symbols, are our symbols.