Palestinian pop singer hopes to compete for Iceland at Eurovision

By Thomson Reuters Feb 27, 2024 | 6:59 AM

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Palestinian pop singer Bashar Murad hopes to represent Iceland at the Eurovision Song Contest in May, and bring a Palestinian voice to the event, which draws millions of television viewers, he said.

Eurovision, which this year takes place on May 7-11 in the Swedish city of Malmo, bills itself as a non-political event and can disqualify those it considers to be in breach of this rule.

However, the global political backdrop frequently weighs. The contest will take place amid protests and boycotts over the Gaza war that have affected cultural events across Europe.

Eurovision Song Contest organisers have resisted calls for Israel to be excluded from the competition but said last week they were scrutinising the Israeli submission’s lyrics as they might refer to the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas.

Iceland will chose its contestant on Saturday, with Murad competing in the national final with a song co-written by Einar Stefansson of Icelandic band Hatari, known for raising a banner showing Palestinian flags during the 2019 Eurovision.

“I wanted to illustrate how many obstacles as Palestinians we have to go through in order to be heard … we’re excluded from every mainstream platform,” Murad told Reuters in an interview.

Under the rules of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) which organises the competition, participants are chosen by EBU member broadcasters to represent their countries from across Europe and beyond. There is no Palestinian entry because there is no Palestinian member broadcaster of the EBU.

Russia was banned from the contest in 2022 over its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Singers of any nationality are able to participate in Iceland’s domestic qualification if they sing their song in the first semi-final in Icelandic.

Murad, who was born in and lives in Jerusalem, said it was difficult to learn the song in Icelandic, but he saw some similarities to the Arabic language.

His entry “Wild West” tells the story of challenging boundaries and chasing dreams against all odds, he said.

“Everyone has theories about my participation. And everyone is politicising my existence when I’m really just a human who had a dream and applied for this competition fair and square.”

When asked if Murad wants Israel to participate in the competition he said: “Of course, I don’t want my occupier to be there.

“But my main focus right now is to be able to bring, for the first time in history, a Palestinian voice to the main stage.”

The annual contest has been won four times by Israel, where it is popular and often viewed as a barometer of the country’s standing internationally.

(Reporting by Tom Little and Stine Jacobsen, Editing by Alexandra Hudson)