- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 24, 2006

NABLUS, West Bank

The Palestinian film “Paradise Now,” which explores the lives of a pair of suicide bombers and just won the Golden Globe for best foreign film, is getting mixed reviews in this tough West Bank city where it was filmed.

Although the film has never been screened in Nablus, many residents here have viewed several clips broadcast widely on satellite television, and some are not happy with what they have seen. Those giving the film thumbs down say it portrays the bombers as less than heroic and as godless and hesitant in their missions.

The film tells the story of two Nablus car mechanics who are sent to carry out a double suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. They shave their beards to blend into Israeli crowds more easily, pray and prepare farewell videos.

The movie generally has been praised around the world and has been played in about 60 countries, according to director Hany Abu-Assad, an Arab born in Israel who considers himself Palestinian but is living in Holland.

Speaking during the glitzy Golden Globes ceremony Jan. 16, Mr. Abu-Assad said he believed the film’s success stemmed from the world’s recognition that the Palestinians deserve “liberty and equality unconditionally.”

The announcement at the ceremony that the award was going to Mr. Abu-Assad “from Palestine” ruffled some feathers in Israel and elsewhere because Palestinians do not yet have a state. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said it was incorrect to refer to Palestine before a Palestinian state has been established.

“There is a Palestinian Authority, but not a Palestinian state,” Mr. Regev said.

The film’s official origin notwithstanding, Mr. Abu-Assad worked closely with both Israelis and Palestinians and filmed the movie on both sides of the divide.

Most of the movie was shot in Nablus, a militant stronghold and the home base of many of the suicide bombers sent to attack Israeli targets in recent years. The conflict served as a constant backdrop for the film, which includes houses demolished in Israeli army operations, the sound of air strikes against Palestinian militants and large crowds waiting at army roadblocks.

The violence even interrupted the filming — once when Israel carried out a missile strike at militants near the camera crew and once when militants briefly kidnapped a cameraman in an effort to stop the filming of a movie they believed would portray them in a negative light.

The filming then was moved to an Israeli Arab city to avoid further interruptions.

Last week, a group of Palestinians at the Sport Shoes store in the center of the city argued over a breakfast of humus and falafel about whether or not the film should be shown in Nablus, where movie theaters were closed more than five years ago for providing frivolous entertainment in light of the bloody conflict.

“This movie wasn’t interesting enough for us,” said Ghassan Jbeileh, a shoe salesman. “We have enough problems with people who can’t put food on the table.”

But Peter Samchan, a trader on the Palestinian stock exchange who saw clips of the film on the Al-Jazeera satellite station and read about it in the newspaper, said Palestinians have to foster openness and should not have interrupted the filming or prejudged the movie.

“We need to let them do their work and then decide if it’s good or not,” he said. “How can we be called a democratic people if we don’t let someone film a movie in Nablus?”

Some hoped the film’s international recognition would help relieve the Islamic hard-liners’ influence on society and allow the screening of such a movie here.

“I have a dream that one day we will see it in a cinema in Nablus,” said Muthana al-Qadi, who helped coordinate the filming here.

The film has met with mixed success in Israel, where it was screened just a few times at a handful of cinemas. Some Israeli viewers said it helped them understand Palestinian suicide bombers but did not legitimize them.

As the Oscar awards show approaches, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences also has designated the film as being “from Palestine.”

“We’ll have to wait until the [Jan. 31 nominations announcement] to see if it gets nominated, said John Pavlik, spokesman for the Oscar organization. “There are other areas as well that are recognized for foreign-language-awards purposes that are not countries: Hong Kong, Taiwan, Puerto Rico. The [academy’s foreign-language] committee wishes to be as inclusive as possible.”

Amir Harel, the film’s Israeli producer, said the mention of Palestine in the Globes ceremony did not bother him and he supported its presentation of a different, more human face for Palestinian suicide bombers.

“First and foremost, the movie is a good work of art,” Mr. Harel said, “but if the movie raises awareness or presents a different side of reality, this is an important thing.”

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