Palestinian boy scores viral rap hit, but is slammed over Gaza politics

Abdel Rahman al-Shantti, 11, performing at his school in Gaza City on Aug 16. His video received over one million views and praise from famous rappers.
Abdel Rahman al-Shantti, 11, performing at his school in Gaza City on Aug 16. His video received over one million views and praise from famous rappers. PHOTO: REUTERS

JERUSALEM • When a 11-year-old schoolboy from Gaza posted a video of himself rapping the lyrics of one of his favourite 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 one 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 it sees 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", Mr 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, Mr Saleh al-Shantti, who also posted his own video contending that his son did not 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."

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."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2020, with the headline 'Palestinian boy scores viral rap hit, but is slammed over Gaza politics'. Subscribe