RAMALLAH, West Bank—The song blares from seemingly every shop and car window in the Palestinian territories, hailing Hezbollah as "the hope of Lebanon" and warning Israelis that "blood will be repaid with more blood."
Its author knew it was going to be a hit as soon as he wrote it.
"It was more than a dream of a song," Ala-Eddin Abdul-Haija, 23, recalled. "It was fame. I could feel fame coming to us through this song. But I did not expect so much fame."
Before the recent war between Israel and Hezbollah, Abdul-Haija's Band of the North was a little-known purveyor of love songs. Now it's the most popular Palestinian musical group in recent memory, thanks to "Greetings, Hope of Lebanon," the song Abdul-Haija wrote in an afternoon, 10 days into the fighting in southern Lebanon. He said he'd been watching seemingly endless footage of dead and wounded women and children on Arabic television when the inspiration hit.
The 10-year-old band—composed of Abdul-Haija, his three brothers and their neighbor—came to music through Abdul-Haija's father, Kayed Abdul-Haija, a well-known Palestinian poet. As youngsters, Abdul-Haija and his brothers were known as precocious. But this Sunni Muslim, Palestinian song of praise for Shiite Muslim, Lebanese Hezbollah and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, made them famous.
"Look at Nasrallah, bold courageous Nasrallah," they sing. "He has responded to the call of Muslims and Arabs. He has responded to the call for revenge from Muslims and Arabs."
The song begins with a clipping from a Nasrallah speech, in which he pledges, "Jerusalem, we are coming." The music is all thumping drums and keyboards. It's loud.
Palestinians say that much of the attention the song brings is negative. Israeli police have seized tapes and CDs from those driving in Jerusalem and smashed them. Music store owners say they have to hide copies from Israeli soldiers or risk confiscation.
The song clearly is hostile to Israel, but it is everywhere.
When it started rattling windows at a performance Monday at a gathering of the militant Sunni group Hamas to honor local college graduates, little boys and their grandfathers started clapping along. Earlier, the crowd had cheered when the welcoming speaker called on the graduates to "never abandon jihad, rise and fight for God."
"Do people know their song?" said Yazeed Khader, the editor in chief of Hamas newspaper Manbar El-Islam. "Of course, every family has a copy. Most families have five copies. The daughters have a copy. The sons have a copy. The mother has a copy. The father has a copy. Everyone, throughout Palestine, is singing this song."
Sales have dropped, store owners say, but the CD is still their hottest seller. All copies are pirated—there's no copyright protection here—and the band has received no money from sales. But the band's paid performances have doubled, to six a week, making it worthwhile financially.
The popularity of the song says a lot about the Palestinian territories these days. Burglaries are way up. Murders are up. Doctors, teachers and garbage men—most public workers—are on strike, protesting that they haven't been paid since March, when the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority ran out of money after the United States, Israel and Europe cut it off over Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist.
Standing in blue surgical shoe covers, in the middle of a strike on the grounds of Ramallah Hospital, the largest public hospital in the territories, Dr. Nasser Hanbali said it was difficult for doctors to walk away from the sick.
"But we've reached the end point," the emergency-room specialist said. "We cannot afford to buy clothes in which to send our children to school. We struggle even to buy milk and food. The government has abandoned us. We must stand up to them."
Children wander the streets with no schools to attend. All but the desperately ill—whom striking doctors have agreed to treat—must fend for themselves. Each day the trash piles a little higher on the streets and sidewalks.
"Palestinian society will not collapse because of three weeks without teaching," said Qais Abue Laila, a former adviser to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and a Palestine Liberation Organization executive board member. "But the economy is a different matter. I fear we've just now jumped off the cliff and are starting our descent. I don't know that we will be able to stop this plunge. These are desperate times."
As he spoke, the song blared from somewhere in the background, praising Nasrallah and Hezbollah.
"My brothers' words, they are not of a high literary nature. They are not poetic," said band member Nur-Eddin Abdul-Haija, 25. "But they have captured what every Palestinian is thinking."
An audio clip of the song is available at http://www.realcities.com/multimedia/nationalchannel/news/archive/hope.mp3
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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