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Arab Singer Hits Sour Note at Party for Army Commander

August 3, 1989
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The first-ever Arab woman to serve in the Israel Defense Force took the biggest risk of her military career Sunday — and bombed.

Performing at a farewell party for the outgoing head of the southern command, Haya Samir caused a scandal when she sang a song interpreted by many to be critical of Israel’s handling of the Palestinian uprising.

Some officers booed and others stalked out of the celebration when Samir, a member of the prestigious Southern Command Entertainment Group, launched into the Hebrew lyrics of her own composition, “Man, Man of Land”:

“Captives of killing are drawn to it blindly/hungry for justice and chewing hatred/while calmness cries out/to all the sons of the Earth.”

According to an army spokesman, Samir’s song was not part of the repertoire for the celebration for Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Mordechai, who will succeed Amram Mitzna as head of the central command.

“Yitzhak Mordechai loved her singing, and we wanted to give him a nice time,” said an officer after the show. “She used us.”

This is not the first time Samir has been at the center of press attention or controversy. Some of the same officers and journalists who prize her spectacular voice also point out her non-conformist approach to military rules.

But never had she breached army propriety before such a high-level audience. Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Chief of Staff Dan Shomron were in attendance, although neither joined the protests that followed.


Samir’s story is a bizarre tale of dual and seemingly irreconcilable identities. Born in Israel to Egyptian Moslem parents, she was 8 before she found out she wasn’t Jewish.

Lili, her mother, was born as Naiwa Ibrahim Mussa in the Nile delta. Her father, Yosef, was born Nabie Sarhan and was a well-known Egyptian poet and journalist who clashed with the Nasser regime and was forced to escape from Egypt.

When no Arab country was prepared to grant the Sarhans asylum, Nabie decided to try his luck at the Israeli Consulate in Athens.

Arriving in Jerusalem in 1968, the coupe adopted the Jewish last name Samir and lived under their assumed identities as new Jewish immigrants.

Haya was born a few months after their arrival in Israel and grew up with Shabbat candles on Friday nights and the traditional Jewish cholent stew on Saturdays.

Samir may never have learned the truth about her past if not for the arrival in Jerusalem of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in November 1977.

Egyptian journalists covering the Sadat visit recognized their old colleague Nabie Sarhan.

Samir remains unrepentant about her performance Sunday or her own ambivalent feelings a bout the uprising.

She said after the show that she had not intended her song as a political statement. “It was a song about life,” she said. As for the officers who walked out, Samir was more blunt. “They can go to hell,” she said.

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