Not an Arab Dream, "Rajieen" Restores Hope in Palestine’s Liberation
November 12 2023
blog Series: 

Our lives have been at a standstill since Oct. 7, especially if you happen to be one of the millions of Palestinian diaspora who grew up far from your homeland without choice. 

Nothing has felt the same since then.

We do not wake to the aroma of morning coffee, we are already awake watching the news. Every bite of food is tasteless and is accompanied by guilt, and even the music we would normally be listening to on our daily work commute no longer brings us joy.

The immense feeling of survivor's guilt has overcome us all as we helplessly watch the genocide in Gaza and the ethnic cleansing of our people with every passing minute for an entire month and counting.

Our anger toward world powers and decision makers has been eating us up internally and the statements of condemnation that are filled with defeat have only filled us with more rage.

In a world filled with cliches that easily spread in such times and celebrities who tend to capitalize on the Palestinian cause, I only expected the release of yet another song as we saw after the first intifada when El Helm El Araby (the Arab Dream) rose in popularity.

And my guess was partially right.

As I was scrolling through my Instagram to stay updated with the horrors unfolding in Gaza, pretty much like everyone else, I found some of the Arab celebrities I have followed all at once posted the same video.

It became clear that it was a joint song titled Rajieen (we’re returning), performed by 25 young artists — many of whom I have closely followed for years.

The ones that I have followed over the years include Wessam Qutob, Zeyne, Ghaliaa, Dana Salah, Issam Najjar, A5rass, Saif Safadi, and Amir Eid (Cairokee).

All those names have had a huge influence on the industry in speaking to the younger Arab generation and even placing Arabic music on the world map. 

For example, Dana Salah and Issam Najjar have been on the vibrant billboards of Times Square in New York City.

I hesitated as I clicked to listen to it, hoping it was not another ballad for a  so-called “Arab Dream.”

The artists who sang “El Helm El Araby,” sang for unity, an aspiration they felt was not realized. The song as Joseph Massad writes in a 2003 article in the Journal of Palestine Studies: 

[was] a new televised song which included upwards of twenty singers and scores of musicians, aired on Arab television stations in 1988 to become, quite unexpectidely, an instant hit continiously aired on Arab satellite channels…the tear-jerker documentary footage accompanying the music, which showed the succession of Arab defeats since 1948…evoked feelings of despair and loss at the end of a dream in the face of yet more defeats, death, and division. 

“Rajieen,” in contrast, launched on YouTube, evoking a clear declaration that the Arab youth are indeed united as custodians of the Palestinian cause despite their sense of powerlessness. And that there is no defeat or division, firm in their belief of return. 

The first few seconds of the music video were enough to bring out my emotions as it showed the level of destruction in Gaza before I heard the vocals of Saif Safadi — a rising young Palestinian artist from the diaspora.

The first verses were filled with the agony that all of us have been experiencing, coupled with the major sense of abandonment with the absence of action to end this war.

Then came the chorus that beautifully changed the tone of the song to one that is rather empowering, turning what once was an Arab dream into reality.

But the key to my home remains in my heart and I’m returning with my children in my arms. Even if the whole world stands against me, I’m returning, O’ my country, I am returning.

From the moment I heard Issam Najjar powerfully sing the chorus together with the other artists, “Rajieen” became the only meaningful song I have been listening to daily.

I do not know what it is about this part that struck a chord, perhaps it is the assertion that I, like the many Palestinians my age who are singing it out loud, are eventually returning to the homeland.

The song only got better from the chorus, with calls on the Arab world to rise to the harrowing crimes being committed in their region, especially with questions being raised over the effectiveness of the Arab League.

Despite the 22-nation bloc initially embodying a united region in light of the first years of the Israeli Occupation of Palestine, it has only turned into a mere shadow of a decades-long, dusty mission.

“Rajieen” even said loud and clear that our helplessness toward Palestine is not a form of normalization. 

The Arab people had no role in the signing of the 2020 Abraham Accords, widely seen as a major betrayal to the Arab world.

Signed in an attempt to achieve “peace,” the accords have proven to be a failure as it only made Israel act with utmost impunity.

One of the possibilities why the song, “The Arab Dream,” portrayed the regional unity that the Arab League aimed to achieve was because of its more prominent role back then, especially when compared to the present.

A point that one must also keep in mind is that “Rajieen”’s Arab artists are the ones who have been shaping the music scene in recent years regionally and internationally.

I remember having a conversation with Zeyne, who is Palestinian-Jordanian, last year about a new music revolution in the region led by young artists. Some of the things Zeyne told me was that the Arab music industry is “witnessing something that never happened before.”

One of the most significant examples is Jordanian artist Najjar who was among the first Arab artists to make the region’s tunes more mainstream. Najjar went from recording covers at home to being one of the most famous faces displayed in Times Square. 

It all started with his hit “Hadal Ahbek” (I will still love you) which went viral on TikTok in 2021 before it was picked up by industry giants.

This generation of Arab artists is not only shifting the industry but has grown to tell their stories to the world using music — inspired by an upbringing that centered on the Palestinian cause and the brutal reality of the Israeli Occupation of Palestine that they witnessed in real-time via social media. 

At least this was Zeyne’s case, who told me that her music is part of her identity as a Palestinian and a form of resistance to the Israeli Occupation.

During the 2021 Israeli aggression on Gaza, Zeyne’s cover of the Palestinian song ‘Yamma Mweel El Hawa’ which she sang with her mother went viral.

She then released her song “Nostalgia” during the same year. The song reflected her internal conflict of longing for a life in a land she never lived in. You can easily identify the Palestinian symbols in the video, such as the oranges of the Occupied city of Yaffa.

"Nostalgia" also echoed the stories Zeyne listened to from her mother and grandmother, who were displaced from Palestine by the Zionist militia in 1948.

Unapologetically existing

Apart from the region, “Rajieen” unapologetically called out the broader Western world and its double standards.

Omar Rammal, a Palestinian filmmaker and artist featured in the video (with directing credits as well), sang:

Sorry that I’m not from Ukraine, sorry that my skin is not white.

This one verse is enough to show that there is now a young generation that is fully aware of what lives the West deems as more worthy. This generation is also well aware that those same nations have actively backed Israel in its “right to self-defense” without halting the decimation of Palestinians in Gaza.

We have also witnessed this change with the mass f in the United States — including the national march in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 4 — and across Europe, with hundreds of thousands united in their stance against their governments’ support for Israel.

We will never forget

The song is filled with details that I kept discovering each time I played it. When I listened to it again, Saudi artist Ahmed AlSaddam’s rap resonated with me.

We haven’t forgotten Al-Durrah and the bombing of the Baptist Hospital.

This specific lyric reflected the core memory of the killing of Palestinian martyr Muhammad Al-Durrah by the Israeli Occupation Forces in Gaza during the second intifada. 

That one single image of Al-Durrah desperately shielding under his father before getting shot and killed by Israel has been deeply ingrained in all of us and has exposed to us the cruelty of the Zionist regime from a very young age.

Twenty-three years later, Israel killed the two brothers of Jamal Al-Durrah, the martyred child’s father, during the latest onslaught of Gaza on Oct. 16. 

The killing of the Al-Durrah family members happened before the world’s eyes, showing again and again the deafening silence of the international community toward Palestinians under Occupation.

The young artists behind “Rajieen” are just like me, all who opened their eyes to the disturbing image of Al-Durrah. From that point, we have grown with built-up rage toward the perpetrators of his murder and that of thousands of Palestinians; the Occupying Israeli regime.

And there is no way Israel would ever erase that memory with all of its weapons and influence on social media.

At the same time, the lyrics juxtaposed the massacre of Oct. 17 at the Al-Ahli Arab (Baptist) Hospital where Israel killed hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza, some of whom were taking shelter at the facility and others who were trying to receive medical treatment.

The many massacres Israel has been committing in Gaza and the footage circulating on social media every day have created more vivid memories of the reality Palestinians are facing. 

Perhaps this time, the generations younger than us would also remember them and grow up to be as frustrated as we are.

Hopefully, “Rajieen” would be the song that my generation and those who are much younger would listen to instead of inheriting “The Arab Dream.” Return to Palestine is not a mere dream, it is destiny. 

Like all colonial empires that fell after colonizing lands that weren’t theirs, Israel, the last colonial project on earth, will also fall.

But until then, we can passionately chant:

I’m returning, O’ my country, I am returning.

About The Author: 

Asmahan Qarjouli is a young Palestinian-Jordanian journalist based in Doha, Qatar. She reports on foreign affairs and culture in the MENA region and beyond, while amplifying the voices of marginalized communities. She often explores unique angles of cultural stories that merge history and politics, including Arab pop-culture. Her interests include crisis and conflict reporting.

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