JERUSALEM — When the 11-year-old schoolboy from Gaza posted a video of himself rapping the lyrics of one of his favorite artists, he never expected it would make him famous or get him in trouble.
It did both.
The video of Abdel Rahman al-Shantti rapping in front of his Gaza City school in confident English and flawless hip-hop attitude won him more than a million views and praise from famous rappers around the world.
The trouble came when he was asked about his message.
“I would like to spread love between us and Israel,” he told an interviewer from a Russian news outlet. “There’s no reason for fighting and wars. We need to let this relationship become better and better.”
The comment came under fierce criticism in Gaza, whose leadership, the militant group Hamas, advocates fighting Israel — to retake what they see as Palestinian land — not making peace with it.
Many Palestinians lashed out on social media at the budding rapper and his father, whom they accused of failing to properly teach his son about the Palestinian cause.
When a young boy “doesn’t study his homeland’s history enough, it’s very easy to plant these ideas in his head,” Saad Yaghi, 23, a resident of Gaza City, wrote in one typical comment on Facebook.
The Russian outlet, Russia Today, removed the video at the request of Abdel Rahman’s father, Saleh al-Shantti. Mr. al-Shantti also posted his own video contending that his son didn’t mean peace and love with Israel specifically but peace with the world.
“The boy is 11 years old and he misspoke,” Mr. al-Shantti said. “He was very tired. It can happen.”
Calls for coexistence with Israel are taboo in many circles in Gaza, and are seen as an act of normalization — treating Israel as a normal state with which one could have normal relations. Some acts of normalization, including activities or communication with Israelis, may be considered crimes in Gaza though no authority has suggested Abdel Rahman’s comments crossed that line.
In April, the Gaza authorities arrested several Palestinian peace activists after they held a video chat with Israelis. The primary organizer of the video call, Rami Aman, is still in prison, waiting for Hamas’s military prosecutor to decide whether to indict him.
Abdel Rahman, a seventh-grader at a United Nations-run school in Gaza City, said he taught himself English by listening to music online. He has been rapping since he was 9, recording covers and — in some cases — his own songs in collaboration with artists from abroad.
He likes the N.B.A. and skateboarding, he said in a Zoom interview from his home, with his father by his side. The rapper he most admires is Eminem, and his dream is to become a professional rapper and tour the United States.
The video that went viral was recorded by his father and was posted and reposted on multiple social media platforms. A Saudi radio host posted it on his Twitter feed, capturing nearly half a million views.
Abdel Rahman said his music aims to convey the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza, whose economy has been devastated by a blockade by Israel and Egypt, which Israel says is to prevent Hamas from importing weapons or the means to build them. But he also wants to share a message of peace and equality.
“You should treat others as you want to be treated,” he said. “I wish we could stop violence and discrimination from different places and different races.”
Palestinian rappers say he has huge potential.
“He’s got the flow, delivery, charisma and story,” said the veteran rapper Tamer Nafar, a Palestinian citizen of Israel. “With the right training, in one or two years from now, he could rise to the international level.”
Waheeb Nasan, a Palestinian-American rapper who wrote the lyrics in the videotaped rap, praised the 11-year-old for his “strong and inspirational craft.”
“I can see he wants to spread a very positive cause,” Mr. Nasan said. “I see a lot of promise, energy and innocent hope in him.”
It is more than ironic that the rap that led to his trouble was a paean to Palestinians who died for their cause and had strong Palestinian nationalist themes. Mr. Nasan incorporated the rap into his remix of “See You Again,” a hit song by Wiz Khalifa.
“First of all this is our country. Let me tell you how it goes,” Abdel Rahman’s video begins.
Many social media users accepted his father’s claim that the boy made a mistake.
Others, without taking a position on Abdel Rahman’s remarks, argued that it was not appropriate to make a young boy the target of criticism. And a few questioned why it was unacceptable to wish to live in peace with Israel.
“Where’s the problem when we search for peace with the neighbors?” Maha Buhisi, 26, a political activist from Deir al-Balah, Gaza, wrote on Facebook. “The boy’s words were beautiful. Peace doesn’t mean giving up on Palestine.”
Abdel Rahman — who was wearing a baggy black T-shirt and a hat that said “NEVER MIND” in his interview with The Times — was enthusiastic and animated. But if his recent difficulties taught him anything, it was to be a bit more guarded when speaking to the media.
Asked if he was dismayed by the reaction to his comments, he weighed his words.
“Kind of,” he began.
Then, his father cut him off before he could complete the thought, saying that he preferred his son not discuss the topic any further.
Adam Rasgon reported from Jerusalem, and Iyad Abuheweila from Gaza City.
Coronavirus: Ministers balance science and politics in latest rules – BBC News
It’s not a day for optimists, even though the prime minister himself is one of that tribe.
Tomorrow, it will be six months exactly since he told the nation to stay at home.
This time, Boris Johnson stopped well short of slamming the country’s doors shut.
But what really stood out in his long statement in a miserable-looking Commons was his message that the limits put in place today will last another six months.
Even if you are very fond of your own company, lucky enough to have a secure job you enjoy and a comfy spare room where you can do it, it is quite something to contemplate.
The government now expects that all our lives will be subject to restrictions of one kind or another for a whole year – March 2020 to March 2021.
As each month ticks by, it becomes harder to imagine a return to anything like normal political life, or, more importantly, the way we all live.
We may not be waiting for a return to life as we knew it, but grinding through a moment of change.
‘Shelter the economy’
But if you were listening carefully, something else was different too.
The country became familiar with the slogan “Stay At Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives” – it was emblazoned on government lecterns, repeated again and again by government ministers in interview after interview, on bus shelters, pop-up ads on the internet, wherever you looked.
That phrase was retired after the most intense period of the lockdown, but echoed today with one important additional condition.
Boris Johnson’s driver today was to “save lives, protect the NHS” and “shelter the economy”.
As we discussed here yesterday, concerns about the economy played more strongly in Downing Street after fierce resistance from backbenchers, and arguments from the next-door neighbour in No 11 of the economic risks of a short, sharp closure programme.
Fears about how the country makes a living have always been part of the decision-making process for the government, grappling with these acute dilemmas.
But the political appetite inside the Tory party for sweeping restrictions has certainly dimmed.
The changes announced today do make economic recovery harder, the “bounce back” the government dreamt of looks harder to achieve, but they are not as draconian as they may otherwise have been.
Ministers used to make great play of following the science, now they are certainly following the politics too.
Only the unknowable progress of the disease will, in time, suggest which call was right.
Covid: How the coronavirus pandemic is redefining Scottish politics – BBC News
The pandemic has probably done more than anything to define Scottish devolution in 21 years of Holyrood decision making.
Before coronavirus, the Scottish Parliament’s policy choices – from free personal care for the elderly to minimum pricing of alcohol – made it distinctive.
Now, Scottish ministers are making life and death decisions affecting everybody almost every day.
The exercise of emergency powers to combat Covid-19 commands public attention like nothing before.
We’ve had six months of lockdown restrictions and after a recent period of relaxation, they are tightening again as coronavirus cases rise.
Paying attention is essential to knowing whether or not you can go to work, visit your granny or have friends round for dinner.
It is First Minister Nicola Sturgeon rather than the prime minister, Boris Johnson, who is deciding for Scotland because public health is devolved.
Many of her decisions so far have matched those by the UK government for England and the devolved administrations for Wales and Northern Ireland.
That was especially true in the early stages of the crisis when there was much talk of a four nations approach – but differences have emerged over time.
The Scottish government has generally been more cautious about lifting restrictions than the UK government.
Bars and restaurants stayed closed in Scotland for longer and it was slower to lift quarantine for people arriving from Spain, before this was reimposed across the UK.
By contrast, the Scottish government was the first in the UK to restore full-time classroom education in schools after the summer.
Scottish ministers did coordinate with the other administrations to introduce the “rule of six” for people attending social gatherings.
However, on closer inspection, the Scottish rule differs from that for England in two key respects.
It is more restrictive in limiting the six people to two different households and more flexible in exempting children under the age of 12.
This is devolved decision making in action as never before.
Some argue divergence across the UK is confusing and undesirable, but opinion polls consistently suggest the Scottish public trust Holyrood to set the pace.
After a period in which Conservatives argued that Scotland should leave lockdown in lockstep with the rest of the UK, a multi-speed approach became accepted.
The pandemic, however unwanted, has given Ms Sturgeon an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and the public seems to appreciate that too.
An Ipsos Mori survey for BBC Scotland in May suggested 82% of people thought Ms Sturgeon was handling the pandemic either very or fairly well.
By contrast, only 30% from the same sample of around 1,000 Scottish adults gave Boris Johnson similar credit.
More recent polling has produced similar indications even although coronavirus outcomes are not profoundly different between the UK nations.
The Office for National Statistics reported that England had the highest increase in excess deaths in Europe to the end of May. At that point, Scotland had the third highest behind Spain.
While politicians of all stripes have been working to suppress coronavirus, coronavirus has suppressed much of our everyday politics.
Previous Holyrood priorities like completing an expansion of free childcare, introducing new devolved benefits and reviewing the school curriculum have been deferred.
Major controversies such as the Scottish government’s mishandling of complaints about the behaviour of the former first minister, Alex Salmond, seem less potent.
The Scottish government parked preparations for an independence referendum in 2020 to prioritise its response to the pandemic.
That has not meant opinion on the major constitutional question in Scottish politics has remained static.
As coronavirus has swept the country, a trend has emerged in opinion polls suggesting there is now majority support in Scotland for independence.
Some analysts suggest this could be directly linked to the focus on devolved leadership in the crisis.
The trend has worried Conservatives enough to change their Scottish party leader and some in Scottish Labour have unsuccessfully tried to change theirs.
Those who favour the union point out that Scotland has been supported by what they call the “broad shoulders” of the UK economy throughout the pandemic.
Lockdown is largely underwritten by the Treasury with huge funding for furlough and other schemes to support business.
Nationalists say this help would be replicated by Holyrood if it had the economic powers of independence.
Unionists question the scope for doing so in a country which, as a devolved part of the UK, had a notional deficit of £15bn before the pandemic took full effect.
Economics will always be important in the debate over independence as will the public’s sense of identity.
In the 2014 referendum, Scotland voted 55%-45% for continued union. If indyref2 was held tomorrow, the polls suggest the result would go the other way.
There is much that could sway opinion further – both for and against independence – in the coming months.
The economic crisis the pandemic brings, the impact of Brexit and the efforts of politicians to overcome the continuing health emergency could all have a bearing.
The public could weary of politicians telling them what they can and can’t do especially if their livelihoods are on the line.
Arguments over all this and more will find expression in the campaign for next May’s Holyrood elections.
Together with elections to the Welsh Assembly and local government in England, these will be the first major votes of the pandemic.
A pandemic that has already given new definition to devolved power and could be playing a role in shaping opinion on the future of the Union
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