The occupation of daily life

May 2, 2011

Love During Wartime, which recently screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, follows newlyweds Jasmin and Osama as they try to build a life together. Their story could be the setup for a romantic comedy: two young artists, a dancer and a sculptor, meet while volunteering at an animal shelter, fall in love and eventually get married despite the misgivings of their parents.

But there is an additional twist that makes their story much more complicated: Jasmin is a Jewish citizen of Israel and Osama is a Muslim Palestinian living in the occupied West Bank.

Swedish director Gabriella Bier followed the couple for four years as they faced obstacle after obstacle in pursuit of their simple goal of living together as a married couple. The result is a highly personal and moving portrait of the ways in which Israeli apartheid and occupation affects the most intimate elements of daily life in Palestine.

Due to a racist Israeli citizenship law, Osama (also known as Assi) is barred from living in Israel, even though he is an indigenous resident of Palestine and married to an Israeli Jew. To even visit his wife, he must obtain a permit from the Israeli army--temporary and always revocable.

Since it is technically illegal for Israelis to travel to "Area A"--parts of the West Bank controlled by the Palestinian Authority--Jasmin must also obtain a temporary permit from the Israeli military in order to visit Assi and his family in their village near Ramallah. The couple also faces social pressure and threats from some Palestinians who see Assi's marriage to an Israeli as a form of collaboration.

After a long and ultimately futile struggle with the Israeli court system, Jasmin and Assi decide their only hope is to move to Germany, where Jasmin's mother was born. But their problems don't end there. Islamophobic immigration authorities do everything they can to create visa problems for Assi, and the couple's marriage faces increasing stress.

At the Tribeca Film Festival screening I attended, Jasmin and Assi made a surprise guest appearance to wild applause. Nearly five years after their marriage, their lives have become a bit more stable. But since Assi has only a hawiyya (the Palestinian ID card issued to residents of the Occupied Territories, which is not a passport), he has been unable to return to Palestine since he left for Germany in 2007. Now a student at an art institute in Vienna, he is investigating the possibility of returning to his own country--as an exchange student.

Before the screening, Laura Durkay spoke with Bier about the process of making the film and how it changed her perceptions of Israel/Palestine.

TELL ME about your background and why you decided to make the film.

I'M JEWISH, and I was brought up in a pro-Israel family. My parents were a bit different from the majority, they could think for themselves, but I went to Jewish schools and everything.

I started working as a journalist. I traveled for many years in West and East Africa, and many of my parents' friends told me, "You should do something in Israel"--I assume they wanted something pro-Israel. But I always felt that this is too emotional for me; it's much too complicated to get into, and I didn't know enough.

But then the Second Intifada broke out. I live in Stockholm, and on the Swedish left, there was very strong anti-Israel sentiment, while in my own community, the climate was very hostile to the Palestinians. I'm in a mixed marriage. I have two children, and my son was very small at the time, and I thought, I can't stay out of this, because this is about my children and about the future.

I wanted to make a love story. So often, the portrayal in the media and in certain documentaries removes the human element. One of my aims with the film was not to reach only people who thought that mixed marriages were okay, but also people who were biased against them. Maybe this love story could make them feel something different. I want to communicate with the people who are against this, too.

Osama and Jasmin, the subjects of the documentary Love During Wartime
Osama and Jasmin, the subjects of the documentary Love During Wartime

I also discovered things about myself. I traveled for many years in the West Bank, but I was brought up in these Jewish Zionist surroundings, and there was a great fear of Palestinians and Muslims and Arabs.

I have relatives in Israel, and when I went to the West Bank, everyone said, "You're crazy," and I was afraid. But I discovered meeting people and becoming friends was the way to overcome that.

DID YOU have any problems with Israeli security while you were filming?

NOT REALLY. For me, the hostilities on the personal level were much more difficult--people can really hate each other, and that disturbed me much more. That and, of course, the difficulties in people's everyday lives in Palestine, for Osama's family. [In Osama's family's village], every man had been to prison.

THERE'S ONE scene in Osama's sister's house where you can see that there are bullet holes in the wall.

YES, IT'S from the Israeli army. You see these traces of the occupation everywhere, and that's just part of life. You've heard these stories many times, but to see it, a film, you can't tell everything, for example, the fact that Israel is much more powerful and much stronger; what the living conditions are like in the West Bank.

Review: Movies

Love During Wartime will be screening in festivals across the U.S. and around the world in coming months. Check here and here for screenings near you.

I felt it was much stronger to visualize it. You don't have to say it if you can show it.

WERE THERE other moments like that, when the occupation found its way into people's daily lives?

I WASN'T there to film it, but one of the times Jasmin was in the village with Osama, he was scheduled to have an art exhibition in Ramallah, and they invited some Israeli friends to come, and somehow, it got through to the Shabak [GSS, the Israeli secret police].

At night, when Jasmin and Osama were sleeping, they broke the door down, just to tell Osama, "We want to see you at the office at 8 o'clock in the morning." When he went to the office, they told him he wasn't allowed to bring any Israelis to his exhibition.

Another example: Jasmin and Osama were going to have a hearing [in an Israeli court, on whether they would be allowed to live together], and Osama wanted to be at the hearing, so he asked for a permit from the military, and he's calling every day to get the permit, and eventually he gets it, but the hours are later than the hearing.

It turned out that the hearing was postponed, but the military didn't know that. So you see a lot of things that are done just out of spite.

First published at Mondoweiss.

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