Tunisian Singer Poses With Israeli Soldier, Sparks Online Outrage

Palestinians were furious when they saw photos of Saber al-Rubai, disseminated by the Israeli army.

Saber al-Rubai and the Israeli officer.
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A West Bank concert by one of the Arab world's top singers triggered mixed reviews among Palestinians, especially when the performer posed for a photo with an Israeli soldier at a border crossing.

Tunisian singer Saber al-Rubai, who performed a few days ago in the newly built Palestinian city of Rawabi, near Ramallah, got a festive welcome including a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. But some Palestinians criticized Rubai's appearance, claiming that such cultural activities serve to normalize the occupation.

 They were especially enraged when Israel's coordinator of government activity in the territories issued a photo of the singer with a Civil Administration officer. Rubai was entering the West Bank from Jordan through the Allenby Crossing controlled by the Israeli army. The caption read: "We are pleased to encourage celebrations and artistic appearances and welcome the arrival of a top artist. We are pleased to coordinate the crossing of singer Saber al-Rubai at the Allenby Crossing,” the coordinator’s office wrote on its Arabic Facebook page.

Tunisian singer Saber al-Rubai
Fethi Belaid /AFP

The photo, posted on Monday, went viral on social networks, with many commenters slamming the popular singer.

Rubai, who has since left for Amman, has yet to respond to the controversy but according to Israeli sources he was aware he was being photographed with the Israeli officer and approved publication of the picture.

Palestinians are divided about visits of Arab singers and artists to the territories. Some believe their appearances show support for the Palestinian people and identification with their struggle for independence, including cultural and artistic independence. Others see these visits as a sign of normalization and recognition of Israel since every such entry requires Israeli coordination and approval.

The amphitheater in the West Bank city of Rawabi.
Nasser Nasser / AP

The Rubai concert is part of an effort to promote cultural activities in Rawabi, which is touted as the first planned city built for and by Palestinians in the West Bank, much of it through private funding. Developers felt it was important to bring a pan-Arab singer of stature to the city now that Palestinians have begun moving there over the last half a year.