Skip to main content

Druze pop star seeks to bridge Palestinian and Israeli divide

Israeli Druze singer Mike Sharif
— Daliat al-Carmel (Israël) (AFP)

"Yalla, yalla, raise your hands!" Israeli Druze singer Mike Sharif shouts in Arabic to the Palestinian crowd swaying to a Hebrew hit at a wedding in the occupied West Bank.

The scene, all the more unusual as it took place in Yatta, a Palestinian village near Hebron and site of frequent friction with the Israeli army and Jewish settlers, created a buzz on social networks and local media.

"I had prepared three hours of performance in Arabic only. After half an hour, everyone -- the families of the bride and groom, the guests -- asked me to sing in Hebrew," Sharif, interviewed in the northern Israeli Druze town of Daliat al-Carmel, told AFP.

The Druze, an Arabic-speaking minority offshoot of Shiite Islam, number around 140,000 in Israel and the occupied Golan Heights.

Nicknamed "the Druze prodigy" after winning a TV competition aged 12, Sharif -- now in his 40s -- rose to fame with his Mizrahi (Eastern) pop songs in the 1990s in Israel, but also in the West Bank, Gaza and Arab countries.

"I have always belonged to everyone," says the self-proclaimed "ambassador of peace" between Israelis and Palestinians.

- 'Hebrew in Hebron, Arabic in Tel Aviv'-

From the inception of Mizrahi pop, influenced by the Jewish cultures of the Middle East and North Africa, reciprocal influences were established with the music of neighbouring Arab territories.

Today, the popularity of artists like Israel's most popular singer Eyal Golan or the younger Eden Ben Zaken reaches well into Palestinian society.

At the same time, the big names in Arabic music -- Oum Kalsoum, Fairuz or Farid al-Atrash -- have long been popular among Israeli Jews.

To Sharif, this musical proximity should make it possible "to unite everyone" and contribute to ending conflicts.

"I sing in Hebrew in Hebron, in Arabic in Tel Aviv and Herzliya. I sing in both languages and everyone sings on both sides," he said.

"Music can contribute to peace. Politics does not bring people together this way."

His Yatta show, however, brought waves of criticism and even threats from both sides, with some Palestinians and Israelis calling him a "traitor" -- the former for singing in Hebrew in the West Bank, the latter for performing at a Palestinian marriage.

And after having said he wanted to be "the first Israeli singer to perform in the Gaza Strip", the territory controlled by Hamas Islamists that Israelis may not enter, he abandoned the idea "due to tensions", Sharif said.

- 'Emotional experience' -

Oded Erez, a popular music expert at Bar-Ilan university near Tel Aviv, links the notion of music as a bridge between Israelis and Palestinians to the "Oslo years" of the early 1990s following the signing of interim peace accords.

Jewish singers like Zehava Ben or Sarit Hadad performed songs by Umm Kulthum in Palestinian cities in Arabic, he recalled, but according to the musicologist, this phenomenon collapsed along with the political failure of the Oslo accords.

"This shared investment in shared music and style and sound is not a platform for political change or political reconciliation per se, you would need to politicise it explicitly, to mobilise it politically, for it to become that," he said of current cultural musical exchanges.

Today, the musical affinity between Palestinians and Israelis is reduced to the essential: "more physical and emotional than intellectual", he said.

The request of the Palestinian revellers at the Yatta wedding was "not a demand for Hebrew per se" but rather for Sharif's "hits" from the 80s and 90s, when "his music was circulating" and some songs entered the wedding "canon", Erez said.

The same goes for the title "The sound of gunpowder", written in 2018 in honour of a Palestinian armed gang leader from a refugee camp near Nablus in the West Bank that is played repeatedly at Israeli weddings, Erez said.

"When there is music, people disconnect from all the wars, from politics, from differences of opinion," Sharif said.

"They forget everything, they just focus on the music."

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in

The Middle East in your inbox Insights in your inbox.

Deepen your knowledge of the Middle East

Trend Reports

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (4th R) attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (3rd L) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on February 22, 2019. (Photo by HOW HWEE YOUNG / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read HOW HWEE YOUNG/AFP via Getty Images)

From roads to routers: The future of China-Middle East connectivity

A general view shows the solar plant in Uyayna, north of Riyadh, on March 29, 2018. - On March 27, Saudi announced a deal with Japan's SoftBank to build the world's biggest solar plant. (Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP) (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)

Regulations on Middle East renewable energy industry starting to take shape

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial