Love During Wartime: Interview with director Gabriella Bier

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Young artists Jasmin and Osama are newlyweds, but building a life together seems impossible: she’s a Jewish citizen of Israel; he’s a Muslim Palestinian living in the West Bank.  Israeli law prevents them from living together in Israel, and life in the Occupied Territories has its own challenges.  Bureaucratic and social pressures eventually force them into exile in Germany, but their problems are not over yet.  Love During Wartime demonstrates how life in Palestine/Israel subjects even the most personal and basic of goals—trying to build a life together with someone you love—to the pressures of apartheid and occupation. 

Love During Wartime is currently screening in the World Documentary Competition at the Tribeca Film Festival.  Screening times can be found here.  Director Gabriella Bier sat down with me to talk about the film. 

LD: Tell me a little about your background and why you decided to make the film. 

GB: 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. 

I also discovered about myself—I mean, 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 was like “You’re crazy,” and I was afraid.  But I discovered meeting people and becoming friends was the way to overcome that. 

LD: Did you have any problems with Israeli security while you were filming? 

GB: 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. 

LD: There’s one scene in Osama’s sister’s house where you can see that there are bullet holes in the wall. 

GB: 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, visually…in 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.  I felt it was much stronger to visualize it—you don’t have to say it if you can show it. 

LD: Were there other moments like that, when the occupation found its way into people’s daily lives? 

GB: 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 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. 

LD: What do you hope that people get out of watching this film? 

GB: I want people to feel something for them, to maybe see things differently.  I’m not a politician; I’m a filmmaker, so I concentrated on the personal part of the story.  I struggled, myself, a lot, seeing things that Israel does that I think are terrible.  It was very hard to digest on a personal level.  I’m conflicted because Israel still means a lot to me, but the government now is terrible; it’s super nationalistic, and it’s totally scary and damaging.  I struggled with it a long time, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s possible to be critical of Israel and still love it and feel at home there.  The country has gone very far in the wrong direction, but I always think that there is a way back, or there is a new way. 

People like Jasmin and Osama are the future of their country, and the fact that they have basically been kicked out and have to live in Germany in order to save their marriage—that is a tragedy.  But they are the future.  They’re an example for all people.

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