JERUSALEM – When the 11-year-old schoolboy from Gaza got a video of himself rapping the lyrics of one of his favorite artists, he never expected it to make him famous or get him in trouble.
It did both.
The video of Abdel Rahman al-Shantti rapping for his Gaza City school in confident English and impeccable hip-hop attitude earned him over a million views and praise from famous rappers around the world.
The problem arose when he was asked for his message.
"I would like to spread love between us and Israel," he told an interviewer from a Russian news outlet. "There is no reason for fighting and wars. We have to keep getting this relationship better."
The comment came under fierce criticism in Gaza, whose leadership, the militant group Hamas, advocates fighting Israel – to recapture what they see as Palestinian land – without making peace with it.
Many Palestinians lashed out on social media at the fledgling rapper and his father, who they accused of failing to properly educate his son about the Palestinian cause.
When a young boy "doesn't study the history of his homeland enough, it's very easy to plant these ideas in his head," wrote Saad Yaghi, 23, a Gaza City resident, in a 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 claim that his son did not specifically mean peace and love with Israel, but peace with the world.
"The boy is 11 years old and he spoke wrong," said Mr. al-Shantti. & # 39; He was very tired. It can happen."
Calls for coexistence with Israel are taboo in many circles in Gaza and seen as an act of normalization – treating Israel as a normal state with which to have normal relationships. Some normalization acts, including activities or communications with Israelis, can be considered crimes in Gaza, however, no authority has suggested that Abdel Rahman's comments crossed that line.
In April, Gaza authorities arrested several Palestinian peace activists after conducting a video chat with Israelis. The main organizer of the video call, Rami Aman, is still in prison and waiting for the Hamas military prosecutor to decide whether to sue him.
Abdel Rahman, a seventh grade at a United Nations-run school in Gaza City, said he taught himself English by listening to music online. He has been rapping since the age of nine, 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, with nearly half a million views.
Abdel Rahman said his music is meant to convey the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza, whose economy has been devastated by a blockade by Israel and Egypt, which Israel says prevents Hamas from importing weapons or the means to build them. But he also wants to share a message of peace and equality.
"You have to treat others the way 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 enormous potential.
"He has the power, the delivery, the charisma and the story," said the veteran rapper Tamer Nafar, a Palestinian citizen of Israel. "With the right training, he could rise to the international level in one or two years."
Waheeb Nasan, a Palestinian-American rapper who wrote the lyrics for the videotaped rap, praised the 11-year-old for his "strong and inspiring craft."
& # 39; I see he wants to spread a very positive goal, & # 39; said Mr. Nasan. "I see a lot of promise, energy and innocent hope in him."
More than ironically, the rap that led to his troubles was a song of praise for 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 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 had made a mistake.
Others, without taking a stand on Abdel Rahman's comments, argued that it was inappropriate to make a young boy the target of criticism. And some wondered why it was unacceptable to want to live in peace with Israel.
"Where is the problem when we seek 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 Palestine."
Abdel Rahman – who wore a baggy black T-shirt and a hat which in his interview with The Times 'NEVER MIND' stood – was enthusiastic and animated. But if his recent difficulties taught him anything, it was to be a little more wary when he spoke to the media.
Asked if he was upset by the response to his comments, he weighed his words.
"A little bit," he began.
Then his father interrupted before he could finish the thought, saying that he would rather his son not discuss the subject further.
Adam Rasgon reported from Jerusalem and Iyad Abuheweila from Gaza city.