Since taking control of Gaza nearly a decade ago, Hamas has tried, in fits and starts, to rub out cultural endeavors its leaders see as immodest, or too Western, mostly by refusing to grant necessary permits.The group’s version of musical entertainment is mostly barbershop-quartet-style groups composed of bearded men or modestly dressed little girls, trotted out to sing for Islam and Palestine during public celebrations.
Many Palestinians share Hamas’s conservative values. Mohammed Assaf,the Gazan who became one of the region’s biggest stars after winning “Arab Idol,” recently said he did not want his equally talented sister to sing in front of men.
It was not always this way. There was a troupe of dancing Gypsies in the 1980s. A coed group sang on Palestinian television in the 1990s. Ms. Okasha’s father, Mohammad-Atef Okasha, now 60, formed a band in 2005, but he said it collapsed when Hamas took power two years later.
In recent months, Hamas officials have been quietly loosening the reins as Gaza residents chafe under years of restrictions on their movement by neighboring Israel and Egypt. They have endured three wars in a decade, and poverty and unemployment are rampant.Nobody stopped women from riding their bicycles on Gaza’s main drag recently. There was no objection to a dog meet-up in a park, though Islamists consider dogs impure and see owning them as a Western habit.
And now this: Ms. Okasha and her 10-member band, Dawaween — slang for “idle chatter” — have performed four times since November.
“The idea of giving permission for a concert, for a dance, for theater, it’s very new,” said the band’s manager, Adel Abdul Rahman.
Ms. Okasha is the eighth of 13 siblings who sing — call them the Okasha 13. “Other families make martyrs,” said her mother, Faiza, referring to Palestinians who die attacking Israelis or who are killed by them. “I make entertainers.”
The five brothers are paid entertainers. It was harder for the women, though. The family was embittered by the fallout after Ms. Okasha’s sister Ranin, now 31, released amusic video a decade ago while living in Cairo that millions of people watched.
It was fairly tame by the saucy standards of Arab music videos. Ranin cutely posed in outfits and danced a little. But it scandalized conservative Gaza, and residents asked why Ranin’s husband — Mr. Abdul Rahman, now her sister’s manager — had permitted such trashy behavior. Crushed, Ranin gave up singing when the couple returned to Gaza. She donned a head scarf.
But Rawan wanted to perform. This time, the family sought to create something that could win Hamas’s approval. “We were ready for this challenge,” her father said.
Samir Mutair, deputy secretary of Gaza’s Culture Ministry, said a committee had been formed to discuss the proposition. The band agreed to a host of conditions, and to keep the mood somber.
“This is not a rock concert,” Mr. Mutair said. Gaza, he added, does not have concerts “where people come to cheer up.”
During a recent rehearsal, the band strained to nail the material. “You have burnt the mother of that song!” Mr. Abdul Rahman yelled as the musicians limped through an old Palestinian song. They repeated it.
“Better?” one of them asked. “Just less bad than before!” Mr. Abdul Rahman retorted.
During another song, the power cut out — a regular Gaza occurrence. The band did not miss a beat.
On Thursday, some 500 people paid the equivalent of about $2 to $6 to hear it.
At a last-minute practice session, Mr. Abdul Rahman screamed, “Crisis!” when he noticed the words “Tel Aviv” on a banner draped across the stage that showed the image of an olive tree, its branches formed from the names of cities that Palestinians see as their heartland. No Jewish-Israeli cities were supposed to be on the banner, in a nod to Hamas’s unrelenting vow to erase them on the ground. A photographer with a marker tweaked the curling Arabic calligraphy, transforming “Tel Aviv” into “Tel al-Rabi,” Arabic for “Spring Hill.”
“Check the banner again,” a stagehand called out. “Maybe we missed other Israeli settlements.”
Ms. Okasha, who is pregnant and has a toddler son, sat on a stool backstage, waiting for a musical interlude, and then walked to the crowd, singing a poem by Ahmad Dahbour, “Children of Palestine.”
Mumin Qreiqei, who is 28 and lost both legs in the 2008 war between Hamas and Israel, moved his wheelchair close to the stage, taking photographs. Layla Hassouna, a pharmacist, said of the singer, “She is really brave.”
Nearby, Ahmad Al-Naouq, a literature student, said he felt confused. “I liked it so much,” he said. “But I would never allow my sister to sing in front of men.”
Samar al-Shawa, 56, said Ms. Okasha “has a beautiful voice that reminds me of the old days in Gaza.”
Her friend Ahmed Ibrahim, mulling the controversy over a woman singing, interjected. “Gazans think their problems are because of the Israeli occupation,” Mr. Ibrahim, 35, said. “This is not true. They have problems because they live on an expired culture from 100 years ago.”
The music began again. Ms. Okasha raised her hand to dramatic effect, gazed at her audience and began singing a mawal — an Arab lament (yes, on love):
“I give the preacher of good tidings a kiss on the eyes! My tiredness has disappeared, a kiss on the eyes! My tiredness has disappeared, oh, son of my tribe!”
From the stage, Gaza’s chanteuse met the eyes of her sister Ranin, whose own musical career had imploded. They exchanged smiles.
source: The New York Times