In August 2004, The Al-Awda Palestine Right to Return Coalition – North America welcomed the Al-Awda Musical Band from Palestine and the Golan Heights, as they toured North America for the first time ever. The band performed in Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal Canada, Washington, DC and New York and New Jersey. Originally, the band was formed in 1997 with the name, Layalina, but decided to use the name Al-Awda for the tour, because they believed the right to return for the Palestinian refugees would be implemented, since t! hat is their sacred and moral right. The band became a part of the Galilee-based Zaitoun Association in 2000, specializing in both folk and modern music.
The name "Zaitoun" in Arabic means olives, which demonstrates the Palestinians strong attachment to their land, particularly to the olive trees with all of the symbolism of resistence, history and culture it carries. Their music is viewed as a representation of the central issue to the ongoing Palestinian liberation struggle and the right for refugees to return to 1948 Palestine. During the time of the tour, the Palestinian prisoners in Zionist jails united in a hunger strike, representing their national and political struggle for freedom and return. In an effort to show love and solidarity to the prisoners, the Al-Awda Band dedicated their tour to the prisoners and as Bilal Badarneh, the band’s main composer said "the least we can do is to sing to our brothers and sisters."
In all performances, the ! Al-Awda band were dressed in their traditional clothing, as the men wore black and the women in their Palestinian dresses, representing old and beautful traditons. The instruments that were used were traditional Arab and Western instruments, such as the Oud, guitar and the drums. In all six cities, the energy and passion filled each room, as they sang songs from revolutionary and modern, to traditional and national.
In Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa, the rooms were packed with almost every seat full. The people were very reactive throughout the evening, as they stood up and clapped and sang along, as well as chanting Awda and the Right of Return. When the band played modern tunes, people formed a circle on the dance floor called the debka, a traditional Palestinian folk dance, and they danced enthusiastically throughout the night. In a moment of solidarity, Montreal called a Palestinian prisoner who was one of thousands united in the hunger strike,! and he spoke to the crowd for five minutes. The crowd was so touched that they stood up and clapped with such passion and even tears filled their eyes at that moment. The last song played in all three Canadian cities was "Ya Bahriyyeh, a song that touched all, written by Marcel Khalife.
Khaled Barakat of Vancouver, Canada, one of the organizers of the tour and a Palestinian activist with Al-Awda – North America, expressed the importance that a part of the struggles of the Palestinian Arabs is also their love for music, and that they are a people of rich traditions and culture, and quoted, "we are not only fighters, we are humans, too. "
After the performances in Canada, the Al-Awda Band flew to Washington, DC, as the DC chapter of Al-Awda hosted the concert event, held at the St. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church – Party Hall. The room was spacious with tables and seats and was also packed and the people were excited. They arrived early, anticipating a gl! orious night of entertainment straight from Palestine to the Nations Capital for the first time ever! The band embraced the crowd with songs on their nationalism, as well as folkloric and modern. As people felt the memories taking them back to Palestine, they sang along and clapped and felt the enthusiasm as they danced the night away with the debka.
The successful tour ended at Al-Solimanya in New Jersey and Alwan for the Arts in New York City, with an excited crowd that also attracted many people. The evening in both towns was a night of energy, too as people danced and sang along to the sounds they were familiar with. The large Middle Eastern community in both New Jersey and New York could not of felt happier, as the band entertained them for an evening that they would never forget.
The last song played on the U.S. tour was "Mawtini," a nationalistic song written by Palestinian poet, Ibrahim Touqan. The song was written to inspire Arab unity! , and it touched all who attended the concert. As the Palestinian Arabs live under a brutal and an illegal occupation and oppression, they turn to their music and art to help them through the pain and suffering they have been forced to endure since the Zionist entity of "Israel." While their cries have not been heard for more than 50 years, and while they wait to return to their original towns and villages, their daily struggle for liberation and freedom unite them through their culture and traditons, along with their warmth and hospitality.
These are the very elements that make me proud to be a Palestinian Arab. Long Live Palestine!!