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8 Oct, 2009 08:48

Blind Palestinians opt for music as their weapon of choice

The strain of the situation in the Middle East is forcing some people to go beyond mere talk. Instead they're singing for peace.

A band of young blind Palestinians say as they're unable to fight for their freedom, they'll let music do it for them.

Mustafa Al Johari was born virtually blind. Although he can still see a little through his right eye, he’s losing what’s left of his sight fast. It won’t be long before he’ll be completely in the dark, like his three brothers. And so he’s now doing everything he can to shed some light on the life of blind Palestinians.

“Some people think that blind people cannot do anything. We want to show that we can,” Mustafa says.

“Yes we’re blind, we can’t take up weapons to free Palestine, but we can use songs and words to fight,” he insists.

Two years ago Mustafa encouraged other blind university students to create Palestine’s first blind band. And while blindness is not a major problem in the Palestinian Authority, there are few resources and help for those who are.

The group sings at weddings and festivals, and spends hours practicing in the offices of a local radio station.

“This is our hobby. We sing about Palestinian life and how we want to fight for our country. The music allows us to speak out and tell our story. We can tell of our suffering through our music,” says band member Samar Mahmud Asasa.

“Even though we are blind, we are better at music that people who aren’t blind. People love us and we have fans. The music has helped us to grow in confidence and progress in our life,” explains yet another band’s participant Mahmud Jounore.

The group is loved by locals but that support doesn’t translate into dollars. One in two people in Jenin is unemployed and they need their hard earned wages for survival rather than entertainment.

It makes it almost impossible for Palestinian musicians to eke out a living.

Jenin was once regarded as a hotbed of militant activity. For years Israelis claimed that every suicide bombing carried out from the West Bank had links to the town. And while the situation has improved slightly with the easing of border controls, Jenin remains dependent on economic ties with Israel.

The group does not have any aspirations that they could end up there, but they are still making a difference in their own neighborhood.

”It does not matter if they’re blind or not. They’re saying what they feel and that is to resist the occupation,” say people on the streets of Jenin.

”These musicians feel they’re equal – and they are the same as everyone else. They have beautiful music. They’re singing folk songs and lots of people want them to play.”

Mustafa hosts a weekly radio show where he sometimes brings in his band and sings for his listeners. For him music remains his inspiration and his weapon of choice.