SALFIT, West Bank -- Worn down by four years of bloody conflict with Israel, Palestinians found a welcome diversion yesterday: Watching Ammar Hassan, one of their own, compete for the title of best singer in the Arab world.
Huge outdoor television screens sprang up in cities and towns around the West Bank in the hours before the show. The streets of Hassan's hometown of Salfit, in the center of the West Bank, emptied of its 12,000 residents. Hassan's parents watched at home, while 2,000 other people gathered to watch in a park.
Likewise, millions across the Arab world tuned in to the final round of "Superstar 2," a competition broadcast on the Lebanese satellite channel Al-Mustaqbal. The winner is expected to be announced Sunday.
For Palestinians, this is more than a television show. It's a matter of national pride for a people that has yet to establish a state. Hassan, 26, reached the final round by singing songs of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation of the lands they claim.
In his family home, Hassan's father sang along when his son appeared on screen singing "Any Tear of Sadness," a sentimental number made popular by Egyptian performer Abdel Khalim Hafez. His mother Itidal's eyes filled with tears as she gazed at the screen.
In a nearby park, spectators waving pictures of Hassan chanted, "Ammar, Ammar, superstar."
The consensus is that a vote for Hassan is a vote for the Palestinian cause -- and that by itself would make Hassan a popular favorite. But Hassan is also a legitimate performer. He has a degree in music from A-Najah University in Nablus and has appeared in upscale West Bank restaurants.
In a previous stage of the competition, the slim, sharp-featured singer plucked many heartstrings with his rendition of "Al Quds," or "Jerusalem," a classical Arabic song. Jerusalem is at the heart of the struggle, as Palestinian seek a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with the holy city as its capital.
Some Palestinians see Hassan as a resistance fighter using a different weapon.
"He is cute, handsome, and great looking. He reflects the image of Palestinian youth," said Rawia Isa, 19, from Gaza City. "Palestinians are fighting the occupation using all means, and culture and music are one of our fighting tools."
In Beirut, translator Amal Helou, 58, said she would vote for Hassan because "he has a nice voice, good presence, and he [represents] a cause that I respect."
Support is not unanimous. Hamas, a violent Palestinian movement that adheres to a strict form of Islam, released this statement: "Our people are in need of heroes, resistance fighters, and contributors to building the country and are not in need of singers, corruptionmongers, and advocates of immorality."
"Superstar 2" began 13 weeks ago with 82 contestants. The field was narrowed to 17 semifinalists until Hassan and singer Eyman Al-Atar of Libya were chosen as the final two in last night's face-off.
The winner will be determined over the next week, as viewers vote by telephone or over the Internet.