The Blessing of Mira Awad, by Lucy Oleinik

April 06, 2014 , , 0 Comments

The moment I heard Mira Awad's song Bahlawan (Arab. Acrobat) in a random cafe, I was charmed. After a long, hectic day it was a joy to stumble upon such tranquilizing music. The singer's cuddling voice coupled with an enchanting melody took me away from everyday troubles. I am not the only one addicted to Mira's creativity. This freedom-loving, daring Arab-Israeli has conquered the hearts of many. The question is: what makes her truly remarkable?

For one thing, Mira Awad, as one of her song says, "has many faces". She plays around with an array of music styles and casually blends three languages (Arabic, Hebrew, and English). By creating a fusion this lady has gained worldwide recognition! Whatever your preferences, I am certain you'll find a track or two to your liking. Looking for an oriental twist? Listen to what Mira defines as "music from the belly" or "hot blood music"[1]. Her Arabic songs are full of sentiment about the Palestinian culture. More into Israeli pop? Just Google her collaboration project with the Israeli singer Noa. Discover how distinctly different Mira's voice sounds in Hebrew. Not to be missed are her jazz, blues, or even rock compositions! 

Another reason to admire Mrs. Awad is for her frivolous spirit. She hails from a small village, Rameh, in the Galilee. Growing up in a conservative society, she was constantly criticized for going against the grain. As a rebellious teenager, she had a shaved head, a nose piercing, and already played in a rock band "Samana" with four boys! Upon leaving Rameh, Mira first studied Fine Arts and English literature at Haifa University and then moved to Tel Aviv, where she entered the Rimon School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. It was there that Awad started to experience some of the prejudices harbored against Palestinians. Due to her fair complexion, however, she was often mistaken for an Ashkenazi. 

Since her days at Rimon she has achieved a great deal. Apart from a successful career as a musician, Mira is also a prominent actress. First starring as Eliza Doolittle in the Israeli Opera production of "My Fair Lady", she went on to play a Jewish settler and an ultra-Orthodox Jew. In an interview in The Guardian[2] she spoke about her push into Israeli mainstream theater. "I made it a purpose” she said. “I wanted to be treated as an actress, not as [only] an Arab actress, not be imprisoned inside that." Subsequently, she became a TV owing to the popularity of the series "Arab labour", where she played Amal, the district attorney. This was the first show to focus on the Arab population of Israel. As Awad herself highlighted, however, the sitcom was a success due to its satirical content. According to her, “[Less humorous] scripts are still out of the question"[3].

Evidently, the attitude of the state towards the Arab community is rather contradictory. Arabs in Israel are confined between two identities. Mira Awad is no exception. On the one hand, she has a strong feeling for the Palestinian cause. On the other hand, she is a citizen of Israel. Being a celebrity, Mira was often pressured to align herself with the Palestinians or Israelis. Awad, instead, claims to have both nationalities. A peaceful message as it is, this statement aroused much criticism from both sides. The first scandal occurred when Awad and the Israeli singer Achinoam Nini were chosen to represent Israel at the 2009 Eurovision Competition. This coincided with the Gaza War, also known as Operation Cast Lead. Awad was bombarded with accusations from pro-Palestinian groups, and Arabic press featured Mira as a traitor, whom "the Palestinian nation lost the moment first bombs were falling on Gaza"[4]. A group of intellectuals even issued a petition to boycott her participation. Mira, however, stuck to her guns. As devastated as she was by the events of the war, she knew "someone had to keep Israeli Arabs on the map"[5]. As a result, the duet even made it to the final with their song "There must be another way". What really matters though is Mira's presence at Eurovision. It helped raise awareness about Israel's significant minority.

The following year, in 2010, Israel celebrated its 62nd Independence Day. Mira Awad was courteously invited to participate in an Independence Day conference organized in London. Her producer accepted the offer without the singer's approval. Taking into account the dramatic events of this day for the Palestinians (known for them as the Naqba), Awad was unwilling to perform. Once again she was portrayed as a national traitor in the Arab-Israeli media. After she had officially declined the invitation, the Israeli side was overcome by a wave of indignation. The leftists blamed Mira for being dubious in her political beliefs. 

Is it possible not to be ambiguous when you are a Palestinian in Israel? Can you determine your identity while balancing between two worlds every day? I doubt there are definite answers. Mira Awad is determined to confront the misperceptions about Israeli Arabs. She firmly believes in the value of small changes. And she has already contributed a great deal to make those changes happen. I see her as a peace mediator who slowly and surely opens up people's minds with her music and acting. She is one of a few people who feel the blessing of being both a Palestinian and an Israeli.


This article is written by one of Diwaniyya's interns, Lucy Oleinik.  Lucy is a Masters candidate in the Middle Eastern Studies program at Tel Aviv University.  


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