With entries that range from Dustin the Turkey (a hand-puppet from Ireland) to Lordi (a Finnish heavy metal group in monster costumes), the Eurovision Song Contest has never been regarded as the pinnacle of artistic expression. But for a group of Palestinian musicians, entry to the contest of kitsch is a chance to tell their story and highlight their identity. As contestants gear up for the big finale in Belgrade tomorrow when the 2008 winner will be announced, organisers from the Palestinian Eurovision campaign are pressing ahead with efforts to join next year's contest.
The campaign was launched during last year's Eurovision contest by Sabreen (a musical group founded in Jerusalem in 1980), the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation and Superflex, a Danish artist collective. Superflex raised the issue during a visit to the Palestinian territories in 2006, said Dr Fadia Daibes, the campaign's spokesman. "We realised that through [taking part in Eurovision] we could help to change the perception of Palestinian identity and to present our rich culture, which no one talks about," she said from Jerusalem.
"The main reason is to put Palestine back on the map by showing that we as a nation have many stories to tell, we have heritage and music and people who want to live and it is this message that we want to convey." The group approached the European Broadcasting Union in May 2007 with a view to taking part in this year's competition. However, its application was turned down on the basis that the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation was not an active member of the European Broadcasting Union, a spokesman for the Eurovision Song Contest said.
Active membership of the EBU is open to broadcasters only from countries that are members of the International Telecommunication Union and are situated in the European Broadcasting Area, and to members of the Council of Europe situated outside the EBA. The Palestinian territories, which lacks crucial statehood, currently only holds observer status in the ITU. Dr Daibes, however, said there had been other instances where the Palestinian territories had gained entry to international groups without statehood.
"Fifa has accepted a Palestinian team to take part in international football games, so we are pushing our case from this angle and we have received signals that our application could be renegotiated this year," she said. According to Dr Daibes, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as some Arab Israelis supported their initiative."I look at this as something noble and an appreciation for our musicians," she said.
"People don't know that we have rappers, in Jenin, in Gaza, in the refugee camps. It has a political side effect, but our main goal is to present a civilised image of Palestine and to unite Palestinians all over the world." Wisam Murad, an oud player and the lead singer of the group Sabreen, said having an entry in the contest would provide a unique platform to showcase Palestinian talent. "I feel it's really important for an artist to be on a stage like the Eurovision contest," he said. "As a Palestinian artist you don't have a lot of opportunities to perform internationally."
Conceding that Eurovision is not known for its high-calibre musical entries, Mr Murad said it was more geared towards commercial pop music, unlike his own, which he described as "classical Arabic with a modern perspective". "For the first time on such a stage, it would be shown that Palestinians have music and they want to live. People look at us as terrorists so it's important for us to have another face," he said.
However, the campaign also has its detractors. Omar Barghouti, a political and cultural analyst and commentator and a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, described the initiative as "ill conceived and counterproductive". "It is based on wrong premises and faulty conclusions," he said. "The main premise that we should achieve some sort of symmetry between Israel and Palestine in the international arena of culture, academia, sport and so on is built on a false comparison between the occupier and occupied, the oppressor and the oppressed."
Rather than join a forum in which Israel is already an accepted member, efforts should be directed towards boycotting Israel's participation, Mr Barghouti said. "Instead of the humiliating attempt to convince the European cultural establishment that we deserve equal treatment to our occupier, we should all be pushing for a full, institutional boycott of Israel." Israel's entry is Boaz, 20, who has made it through to the final with a song written by Israel's 1999 Eurovision winner, Dana International. This year's entry is considerably less provocative than 2007's Push the Button, a song that allegedly was about a possible nuclear attack by Iran.
Meanwhile, Sabreen and the other members of the campaign are not giving up. With the goal of taking part in Eurovision 2009, they are planning to hold a national song contest to find a participant before December, with the competition open to Palestinians anywhere - not just in the West Bank, East Jerusalem or Gaza. "We are calling for all Palestinians to take part, from inside Israel and all over the world," Dr Daibes said. "Even just the idea makes people united and although it might not happen next year, we are hopeful."