ISRAEL – The first day of rehearsals for the Eurovision Song Contest kicked off in Tel Aviv on Saturday amid an escalation of violence in the South. The 40 visiting contestants from around the globe began landing Friday morning, and continued to arrive throughout the weekend. And despite a barrage of rockets that began Saturday morning, everything continued as scheduled at the Expo Tel Aviv, where the rehearsals took place. Those rehearsals are slated to continue as planned on Sunday morning, Eurovision officials said late Saturday.
“Rehearsals with the artists, their delegations and the production team have kicked off here in Tel Aviv,” tweeted Eurovision executive supervisor Jon Ola Sand on Saturday afternoon. “Looking forward to seeing them all on the @Eurovision stage.”
Despite an explicit threat from Palestinian Islamic Jihad on Saturday against the Eurovision Song Contest, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) said preparations for the competition were continuing as schedule.
Rehearsals, the EBU said Saturday, “will continue as normal” and the situation will be “closely monitored.”
“Safety and security is always of paramount importance for the EBU,” the organization told The Jerusalem Post in a statement on Saturday. “We continue to work alongside KAN and the Home Front Command to safeguard the well-being of everyone working in and joining us at Expo Tel Aviv. We will continue to closely monitor the current situation and rehearsals will continue as normal.”
A Eurovision-themed concert scheduled for Saturday evening in Modi’in was canceled due to the security situation. The show was slated to feature Dana International, Israel’s 1998 Eurovision winner. But the concert was canceled hours before it was scheduled to begin following orders from the Home Front Command not to hold large gatherings.
“It’s very sad that the first big Eurovision event is being canceled,” Dana said Saturday evening. “I’m shocked and saddened. I hope this will be the only event that will be canceled.”
Throughout Friday and Saturday, a steady stream of Eurovision contestants arrived in Israel from across the globe to begin a week of rehearsals, staging and preparation.
The first to arrive on Friday was the one with the furthest to travel: Australia’s Kate Miller-Heidke, who flew 22 hours to arrive in Tel Aviv. She was joined throughout Friday by Hungary’s Joci Papai, Cyprus’s Tamta, Serhat from San Marino, Zena from Belarus, Tulia from Poland, Lake Malawi from the Czech Republic, Nevena Bozovic from Serbia, Zala and Gasper of Slovenia, D-Moll from Montenegro and Hatari of Iceland.
On Saturday, Finland’s Darude arrived, as did Sergey Lazarev of Russia, Oto Nemsadze of Georgia, Eliot Vassamillet of Belgium and Greece’s Katerine Duska.