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Progress In Gaza: A Homegrown TV Melodrama At Last

August 12, 1996

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) _ Ayoub Akhras spent four years in Israeli jails for supporting Palestinian militants. Salah Kadoumi spent 22 years in exile. Now they are masterminding a new project: Palestinian TV’s first serial television series.

As producer and director of ``Fishermen’s Nights,″ they are leading the latest breakthrough in the Palestinians’ march from Israeli occupation toward self-determination.

The low-budget series, using mostly props found on local beaches, begins airing in January. Its 39 episodes weave Palestinian history _ from Israeli occupation, through rebellion to the current autonomy _ into a maze of crime, personal tragedy and unrequited love.

``The fishermen and their problems of poverty under the occupation are a reflection of Palestinian society,″ said 45-year-old Kadoumi, the mustachioed, energetic director.

``Camera! Sound! Action!″ Kadoumi bellowed through a megaphone across a Gaza beach, ordering his nine actors into place for filming Sunday.

On cue, drug-peddling fisherman Abu Sharr stuffs the head of his colleague Jamil into a bucket of water and threatens to slit his throat.

Jamil, suspected of stealing Abu Sharr’s supplies, pleads innocence. Abu Sharr, whose name means ``Father of Evil,″ finally lets the whimpering Jamil go free.

``Cut,″ shouted Kadoumi, satisfied with the take.

Although Kadoumi says drama is at the core of the show, politics is also in the air.

``During the (uprising), the Israelis controlled all this and we could not film on location,″ said actor Akram Obeid, 29, who once worked as a house painter in Israel. ``There is no doubt that the peace process gives us the full freedom for actors to work.″

During the occupation, the Israeli government did not provide funding for Palestinian art, theater or cinema. The few directors and producers there were raised their own money. Palestinian television did not exist.

``Fishermen’s Nights″ is the first large-scale mini-series to be shown by the Palestinians’ only television station, which also airs newscasts, smaller series and a handful of special programs.

Akhras, the producer, said he spent four years in Israeli jails for aiding the Fatah Hawks, a militant group once associated with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Kadoumi spent 22 years in exile, returning in 1994 when Gaza gained autonomy. Like many, he fled the West Bank shortly after Israel captured it in 1967.

Kadoumi, who earned a communications doctorate in Bulgaria, said that with ``Fishermen’s Nights,″ he is aiming for a delicate ``European″ touch, distinct from the sometimes overwrought local fare.

The show is careful not to offend its target audience. A young woman is covered in traditional dress, and although she has a secret boyfriend, the couple never kisses on screen.

``It would not be appropriate for our audience, for the Arabic culture,″ explained Kadoumi. ``We don’t believe in this kind of love.″

Kadoumi refused to discuss his budget, which is provided by the impoverished Palestinian Authority, which runs the lone TV station.

But he pointed out that the costumes were regular clothing and most of the props, from the fishing boats to an abandoned pier that collapsed two years ago mid-construction, were simply found on the beach.

Kadoumi conceded the acting still needs work.

``During the past years, these actors and artists were not nurtured or utilized, so they are not the best,″ he said. ``Their work reflects the society in which they live.″

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