Palestine Vies for Oscar With ‘Omar’

Director Hany Abu-Assad Discusses Love Story Amid Conflict

Palestinian Passion: Adam Bakri and Leem Lubany share a moment in ‘Omar.’
Adopt Films
Palestinian Passion: Adam Bakri and Leem Lubany share a moment in ‘Omar.’

By Sheerly Avni

Published March 02, 2014, issue of February 28, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Despite Robert Frost’s warnings to the contrary, there seems to be something in the Arab-Israeli conflict that very much loves a wall. The most familiar walls are those built in the name of Israeli national security, which continue to draw international scrutiny, and which Jews and Palestinians view from opposite sides of a decades-long struggle. Then there are the walls most Israelis — and of course tourists in Israel — will never see: the ones built to separate Arab communities in the occupied territories and refugee camps from each other.

It is this second type of wall that features most prominently in Hany Abu-Assad’s Oscar-nominated love story, “Omar,” and which serves in the film as a stand-in for the implacable force of the occupation itself, which divides Palestinians from each other and too often leaves them, literally and figuratively, with blood on their hands.

Director Hany Abu-Assad, cordial but not conciliatory, spoke with the Forward’s Sheerly Avni in a midtown hotel in New York City in early February about the despair of young people in his country, the efforts he has made to be seen as an artist first and a political specimen second, and finally, the passion behind his attempt to help kick-start an autonomous Palestinian film industry.

Sheerly Avni: “Paradise Now” was the first Palestinian film nominated for an Oscar; it made history. There is also a historic dimension to “Omar,” as only the second film that was almost 100% funded by Palestinian private equity. Why was the funding model so important to you?

Hany Abu-Assad: It’s what I am most proud about with this film, the fact that we made it ourselves. The financing was Palestinian, the cast was Palestinian, and almost all the crew were Palestinians. There were some Israelis as well, but the decision-makers were all Palestinian, and this is important to me. I am very proud of the fact that we succeeded in making a worldwide, well-received movie from our own resources and our own crew. At least when it comes to telling our own story, we are showing that we can do it without help. And I say this not out of nationalism, but out of a very human desire for freedom.

How is the desire for an autonomous Palestinian film industry not a form of nationalism?

Nationalism is about having or wanting a country, with its own national identity. Right now, I don’t care about “country.” I care about civil rights, human rights, equal opportunity, justice; I don’t care about whether you are Palestinian or Christian or Muslim or Jewish. These are individual identities that are not necessary to share with others. What you share with others is your values, rather than your identity. You can do what you want, believe in whatever god you want, have different opinions about everything, but our values should still be about respecting each other’s equality and civil rights.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.