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9 October 2013

Musical road for ‘Autostrad’ is bumpy

By: Daoud Kuttab
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This week, a Jordanian band went on a tour that included the Golan Heights, Nazareth, Haifa, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. But the popular music group which is rated as one of the top five in the region faced a concerted social media and online attack as having participated in a politically unacceptable act.

The attack focused on the fact that the band members received visas from the Israeli embassy in Amman. They are accused of normalising with the Israelis. Entry into Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, Nazareth or Haifa is not possible without a visa. The permits issues by the Palestinian Authority in coordination with and after the approval of the Israelis are valid only in West Bank cities like Bethlehem and Ramallah.

The band, Autostrad, identifies itself as “an Ammani world, reggae, funk band from Jordan”. Fronted by lead singer Yazan Alrousan, Autostrad was formed in 2007 with guitarist Hamza Arnaout, keyboardist Wisam Qatawneh, bassist Avo Demerjian, saxophonist Bashar Abdelghani and drummer Burhan Ali.

The online and social media campaign was launched by a number of young Jordanians and Palestinians, including some who are citizens of Israel.

In an article published on a number of progressive sites, the writer says the band is welcome to Palestine only after it is liberated. A hashtag with “come after it is liberated” also went viral as attacks against the music group mushroomed.

Efforts to boycott Israel are generally focused on international academics wanting to visit Israeli towns, not Palestinian locals inside Israel.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel says that it has developed guidelines on this issue in consultation with Palestinian civil society organisations since 2007.

“All Arab-passport holders entering any part of historic Palestine (67 or 48) on an Israeli visa are normalising with Israel. In order to obtain an Israeli visa, the country of the Arab-passport holder must have normalised relations with Israel, and the individual applying for the visa is accepting this normalised state of affairs.

“Thus, Jordanians and Egyptians could technically enter historic Palestine by going to the Israeli embassies in their countries, thus accepting the normal diplomatic relations between the two countries.

“Visits based on such acceptance send a message to the rest of the Arabs that if you want to go to historic Palestine then just make peace with Israel on its terms. Those requesting permits, however, are dealing with the occupation army, and this is not a state of normal diplomatic affairs.”

Autostrad members reject the accusation of normalisation and insist that they are visiting their country upon invitation from credible Palestinian organisations and will sing to Palestinians and Syrians living under Israeli rule.

Arnaout was quoted on a website that getting a visa was the only option available.

“We are Jordanians and Palestinians and this is the only way we have to enter our homeland Palestine and no one can stop us from doing our work.”

Online commentators also came to the defence of the Jordanian band.

Yazan Khalili, a young Palestinian artist, wrote that all sides should work at strengthening the positives of the visit of the troupe instead of the negatives.

“Who said that not getting a visa from an Israeli embassy is more important than communicating with Palestinians under Israeli rule,” he said.

Khalili called for a serious discussion of the issue of normalisation, away from the black and white arguments, and looking deeper into what really is good for the Palestinian people and their need to be in touch with their Arab depth.

Judging by photos posted on the Autostrad website, the concerts on the Golan Heights and Haifa were fully booked.

The members of the band even visited and were photographed in the Palestinian village of Iqrit, whose residents were asked by the Israelis to leave for two weeks during the 1948 war and then were refused entry.

The Palestinian president has repeatedly said that a visit to a prisoner does not mean legitimising the prison authority.

After 65 years of Nakbeh and 46 years of Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and Golan Heights, having a group of unelected individuals decide who is a patriot and who is a traitor does not serve the overall cause.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net

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