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Angry group breaks up Palestinian DJ’s concert at historic West Bank site

Palestinian DJ Sama Abdulhadi (left) performed a concert at the Muslim historic site of An-Nabi Musa on Saturday December 26.
Palestinian DJ Sama Abdulhadi (left) performed a concert at the Muslim historic site of An-Nabi Musa on Saturday December 26. © Observers

The evening of Saturday, December 26, a concert taking place at an Islamic sacred site, the An-Nabi Musa tomb in the West Bank near Jericho, was broken up by a group of citizens who had heard about the event through social networks. The event’s organisers maintain that they were authorised to use the space, but the DJ has been arrested and the Palestinian Authority has opened an investigation into the event.

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Dozens of people gathered at the shrine of An-Nabi Musa on Saturday to attend a concert featuring DJ Sama Abdulhadi, who has gained international acclaim as one of the first female Palestinian DJs. The event came to an early end, however, when it was broken up by a group who objected to the use of the sacred site, claiming that there were drugs and alcoholic beverages at the concert. 

A pilgrimage destination, the shrine is believed to be the burial place of the Prophet Moses, and contains a mosque. Dating back to the 12th century, the site now contains privately managed hotel rooms and a restaurant following renovations completed in 2019 which aimed to increase visitors. 

A video posted on Twitter on December 26 shows DJ Sama Abdulhadi surrounded by dancing attendees.

When news of the concert was shared online, a group of men from Jerusalem headed to the site to expel the attendees from the shrine. In videos of the event shared online, there is little evidence to support the claim that the party was overly crowded or supplied with alcohol and drugs. 

Videos posted online show the group of men walking into the courtyard, encountering the concert and demanding that everyone leave. They used fireworks to break up the event after attendees hesitated to leave, maintaining that they had the authorisation to be there.

In this video posted on December 26, several men enter the venue and tell the concertgoers to leave. When the woman in the video refuses, they tell her, “Leave or we’ll blow it all up.”

In this video posted on December 26, a man lights and tosses a firework as attendees exit the venue.

Israeli military forces arrived at the scene soon after the clashes, but a spokesperson from the Israeli army told the Times of Israel that the incident was being dealt with by the Israeli police and Palestinian authorities.

Anger began to erupt online after rumours spread that the concert was authorised by the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism or the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the two bodies which participated in the shrine’s renovation project. Both parties denied the accusations.

However, email records obtained by the New Arab showed communications between the concert organisers and the Ministry of Tourism, which manages the areas of the sacred site outside of the mosque. These emails show that the ministry approved the request to use the shrine for a performance, under the conditions that the event respects public safety measures, the site’s regulations, and its religious and cultural importance. 

Members of Abdulhadi’s team told the New Arab that the event at the shrine was part of one of the DJ’s ongoing projects to broadcast concerts from historical and cultural landmarks in the West Bank, in order to draw attention to them. The performance was part of a global project to promote cultural heritage in the Middle East through electronic music concerts broadcast on platforms such as Beatport and Twitch. 

They also maintained that there were no alcoholic drinks or drugs present at the concert, which took place in the courtyard of the shrine, not in the mosque.

Worshipers clear the tomb 

The day after the event, Israeli police set up a roadblock outside An-Nabi Musa, but that didn’t stop dozens of Palestinians from accessing the shrine to hold afternoon prayers and clean the site. 

Israeli security forces monitored the An-Nabi Musa shrine on December 27 as people gathered to clean the site and pray.

A group of people was seen gathering remnants of the previous night’s event, as well as furniture from the site’s hotel rooms, and burning them. The group objected to the use of the shrine for tourism purposes, in particular the management of the hotel rooms by a private company, and use for private events.

A video posted on Facebook on December 27 shows a group gathering mattresses and other furniture from the shrine’s hotel rooms in a pile.

The furniture and other items left from the previous night’s event were taken outside the shrine to be burned.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has launched an investigation into the events. DJ Abdulhadi was arrested by Palestinian police on December 27 for her role in organising the concert. On December 29, her detention was extended for 15 days, pending investigation.

Several human rights organisations have called for Abdulhadi's release. According to Ammar Dweik, director general of the Independent Commission for Human Rights, an organisation created by the Palestinian Authority, Abdulhadi had received authorisation to hold the concert. "[An-Nabi Musa] is not only a religious site but also a tourist site," he told AFP. "If electronic music was not appropriate for it, the ministry should not have given its authorisation."

Saturday’s events took place despite a nighttime curfew imposed on the West Bank to counter the spread of Covid-19.

 

UPDATE 5/1/2021: On January 3, 2021, Sama Abdulhadi was released on bail after spending a week in jail, her family told AFP. The date of her hearing has not yet been determined.

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