I first met Oday al-Khatib in 2006, when he was 15. He had travelled from Al Fawwar, a refugee camp in the West Bank, to Italy and other European countries for a series of concerts with Dal’Ouna, a group founded by the Palestinian musician Ramzi Aburedwan. They played a fantastic set of Palestinian and Arab songs, but it was Oday’s voice that made their performance most memorable.
The songs he sang included ‘El Tifl wel Tayara’ (‘The Child and the Kite’ or ‘The Child and the Plane’) by the Lebanese composer Marcel Khalife, in which a child looking for a string for his kite sees instead a plane coming to bomb his village. Khalife’s song ‘I pass by your name’ is inspired by one of Mahmoud Darwish’s poems: ‘When I pass by your name, I feel like a Damascene who passes by Andalucía. When I pass by your name , there is no army besieging me. There is no country.’
Oday has continued to sing, both in Palestine, with the Al Kamadjati music schools, and all over the world. But on 19 March he was arrested by the Israeli occupation forces in Al Fawwar, and now risks up to ten years in prison. He is accused of throwing stones at the Israeli army (they’d killed one of his friends a week earlier). But his family insist he wasn’t involved in the incident that led to his arrest.
His trial has been postponed twice: it’s now due on 17 April. ‘He sings in the prison, and everyone listens to him,’ his mother says.