The Israeli citizens trying to win the Arab World's answer to X Factor

The Israeli citizens trying to win the Arab World's answer to X Factor

When two young people returned home from a televised singing contest their passports were confiscated and they were at risk of up to four years in jail.

Their apparent crime? Manal Mousa, 25, and Haitham Khalaily, 24, are Arab Israelis and they had appeared on Arab Idol - the Arab world's answer to X Factor - in Lebanon, officially designated an enemy country.

Arab Israelis are banned from travelling to most Arab countries because of their passports and the Israeli border with Lebanon is closed, so Manal and Haitham, who passed first round video auditions in the West Bank, had to travel to Jordan before flying to Beirut to go through a further three-stage audition process.

They are among the final 26 contestants on the show, and the first Arab Israelis to appear on it at all, although on-screen captions only refer to them as being from Palestine.

Waheeb Khalaily, from Galilee, said of his son: "This is a chance for Haitham. For the Arab world and the whole world to hear him and say that he represents a Palestinian people that clings to its land."

When Haitham and Manal returned to Israel after May's auditions they were interrogated by Israel's Shin Bet intelligence service, and had their passports confiscated and revoked for three months, although the travel documents were returned within days thanks to the work of rights groups.

Under Israeli law travel to Lebanon is technically punishable by four years in jail, although prosecutions are only normally pursued if the individual has prior convictions.

For now though Haitha and Manal are wowing audiences in the Arabic-speaking world.

Egyptian composer Hassan El Shafei, one of the judges on Arab Idol, said: "You're telling people that the voice of Palestine will reach the whole world."

They face an even tougher task staying on the show, however, as anyone from their families in Israel wishing to vote for them must drive to the West Bank and use a Palestinian mobile phone to call.

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