No soft soap as Arab TV drama tackles big issues

By Ben Lynfield, September 4, 2008

"The BASTARDS. They become so slow during rush hour," the Palestinian stuck at a checkpoint tells his colleague."I'm gonna show them," he says, stepping out of the car. "They think we're animals, we're sheep."

"Get back in the car," a soldier's voice resounds through a megaphone.

"Majed, get in and close the door," his colleague pleads.

The scene is fictional, although the tension is realistic. This is the new Palestinian soap opera, Matabb, a view of West Bank life running during Ramadan.

Matabb means speed bumps, a reference to the daily lives of Palestinians grappling not only with occupation but also corruption, a patriarchal society and Islamic fundamentalism. And also the bumpy marital relations at the heart of soaps everywhere.

In this case, Majed's wait at the checkpoint has bad consequences for his already troubled marriage to wife Wafaa. The couple had argued over who would help their son, Ziad, with homework. Majed finally relents and promises that this time he will leave work early - only the checkpoint delay means he no longer has time, much to Wafaa's chagrin.

Matabb, filmed in and around Ramallah, cost about €150,000 (£122,000) to make, contributed by the EU and German development agency GTZ.

We meet Samira, a young woman who works in a Ramallah NGO. Dressed both modestly and provocatively, her white hijab covering her hair but her sweater decidedly tight, she is courted by Abdallah, a shady character who drives a stolen Israeli car.

Abdallah has little interest in Samira's work at a waste disposal system in a refugee camp.

Samira's jealous brother hears that she is consorting with a man. Suspecting her of violating the family's honour, he decides to kill her and, in the last scene, she runs away.

"We wanted to give place to many issues, not to talk only about the occupation," director George Khleifeh said. "We wanted to touch on male domination, Palestinians not confronting corruption and other problems."

Last updated: 11:04am, September 4 2008