by Nagham Mohanna
14 May 2019
Rami Okasha stands amid the rubble of bombed out building in Gaza and strums his oud.
He sings a traditional ballad entitled I Write my Country’s Name on the Sun, as young boys watch, perched on a destroyed car.
The area was hit by an Israeli air strike this month and Okasha, a famous local musician, is singing in protest.
His performance is on a cinderblock stage, but 60 kilometres northwards along the shores of the Mediterranean, Israelis in Tel Aviv are being treated to a pop music spectacle featuring the likes of Madonna and other global stars.
Gazavision, the event at which Okasha played on Tuesday, was an event protesting against Israel hosting the 2019 Eurovision song contest.
Israel won the right to host the international pop music contest after Netta Barzilai, the flamboyant Israeli singer, won last year’s event in Lisbon.
But the event, which draws a television audience of 200 million people, has provoked controversy and comes shortly after a recent flare-up in violence between Gaza and Israel.
Eurovision is being hosted at a beachside compound in Tel Aviv, a six-hectare venue complete with food stalls, bars, stages and giant screens.
Its comparison with the makeshift stage in Gaza is a potent symbol of the asymmetry of the recent two days of fighting between Gazan militants and the Israeli military, in which four Israeli civilians were killed by rocket fire and 25 Palestinians died, nine of them militants.
But Okasha said his music was more focused on peace.
"Our message is full of love and peace. We only want to live peacefully," he told The National.
A Gaza youth group called Josor, which translates as courageous, organised the concert contest in hopes of highlighting the disparity between Israelis and Gazans and the inherent injustice of the blockade on the enclave.
But they also want to challenge the stereotypes of Gaza, said Salem Harara, 24, a member of the group.
"We are here today to send our melodies that express the beauty of Gaza to the world and to change the cliches of Gaza from images full of sadness to one of happiness," Mr Harara said,
Audience member Sabreen Alnajjar, 45, said the event was an opportunity to protest in a positive way.
"I am here to express my rejection of the violations against Palestinians and to show my opposition to the Eurovision competition taking place in Tel Aviv," Ms Alnajjar said.
Her daughter was a medic who was killed by Israeli sniper fire on the border last year as she was volunteering to help injured protesters.
Razan, who was 21 when she died, became a symbol of the protest movement launched on March 30 to demand the right of Palestinian refugees to return to homes they fled during the creation of Israel in 1948.
"I am asking everyone who wants to support the Palestinians to consider boycotting the Eurovision competition, because Israel keeps killing our children,” Mrs Alnajjar said.
In Gaza, social media activists have led an online movement against Eurovision.
The activists have targeted the personal pages of musicians due to appear at the event, calling on them to cancel their performances.
On Tuesday, Madonna said she had no plans to cancel her scheduled appearance in Tel Aviv this weekend.
“I'll never stop playing music to suit someone's political agenda, nor will I stop speaking out against violations of human rights wherever in the world they may be," she said.
But Ameen Abed, one of the Palestinians calling for a boycott of the event, said he believed they had encouraged some scheduled performers to cancel.
"We continue our campaign to deny the lies of our occupier,” Mr Abed said. “It’s our national and moral duty to defend our historic roots in this land.”
Bassem Naeem, head of the International Relations council in Gaza and former minister of health, said that events such as Eurovision being held in Israel were an attempt to distract attention away from its treatment of Palestinians.
"No one, including singers and artists, has the right to whitewash Israeli crimes,” Mr Naeem said.
“Eurovision 2019 is being held on land that was stolen from our grandfathers and grandmothers.”
While Israelis were being entertained by global stars, “here in Gaza there are two million people being kept hostage", Mr Naeem said.
"Our lands in the West Bank are confiscated and more than 6,000 of our people are detained in inhumane conditions in Israeli jails.”