'Paradise Now,' a nominee for best foreign-language film, tracks the lives of two Palestinian men as they prepare to become suicide bombers. To play one of the pair, Kais Nashef, a Palestinian who lives in Tel Aviv, spent three months of 2004 in the West Bank city of Nablus. Nashef was immediately drawn into the life of the city, and he offers this account of working in the film's bleak, turbulent setting.
Cab ride on the day of arrival, from the checkpoint to the hotel.
IT is a bright winter day. Sun flashes from a variety of odd corners. Everything seems normal. But still I have the strange sensation of having arrived in another country after a long flight, perhaps because I have just passed the one-way border crossing, or perhaps because I know that I am going to be here for three months. Or perhaps it's because of something else entirely; something to do with the place itself and the way in which the winter light resting on it is slightly different from the Israeli winter light. I hadn't felt this way the last time I was in Nablus in '87, a few months before the first intifada. Then, I had felt as if I were really only a half-hour's drive from home.
I speak to the cab driver, who tells of his brother in Qatar, his brother in Kuwait and of his own Saudi background. I get out with all my bags, look around and feel that I am within a pattern of logic I can't decipher.
\o7The city is encircled by a ring of mountains -- checkpoints -- and observation posts that blink red at night on the mountain tops.
The mountains themselves have the proud stance of a military
The day after my arrival, Sheikh Ahmed Ismail Yassin, co-founder of the Palestinian group Hamas, is killed.
Tahi, a sad, smiling man who has a small role in the movie and whose house is located in the heart of the casbah, tries to adopt me and battle my reticent nature.\f7
Driving around in Tahi's car the night after Sheikh Yassin's death.
WHEN night falls, Nablus sweeps the people from its streets and replaces them with a still landscape of subdued lights. It's 1 a.m. and I'm at the wheel. Tahi tells me to take a right turn toward the Old City. The dark and the state of alert have leached the magic from the arched alleyways. The Israeli Defense Forces are on the alert for acts of revenge for Yassin's killing, and the Palestinians are on the alert for any preventive strikes by the Israelis.
Tahi directs me into ever-more twisting alleyways. Suddenly he tells me to flash the headlights and honk the horn just once, then turn left. At the end of the alley, about 40 silent men stand holding machine guns, watching our approach. My foot shakes on the clutch more than it did on the day I went for my driver's license.
Tahi recognizes the men and tries to explain who I am, but they remain silent. "What's happening, guys?" I ask, but they still don't say a word. All I see are eyes peering at us from different angles as I try to ignore the Kalashnikovs.
Tahi tells me to drive back, and as I turn the car around, I almost hit one of the men. He comes toward me holding a machine gun the size of a house, shouting, "Why are you driving like that? Why are you driving like that?"
"I'm not a very good driver," I squeak, and suddenly everyone bursts out laughing. I laugh too.
On the way back to the hotel, Tahi explains that the open spaces of the alleyways are the best hiding places for groups like this; it's difficult to surprise them there, and there are many possible getaway routes. I realize that in his eyes, these men are heroes protecting the Old City. They seem pretty serious to me, as well, and certainly good material for a Dali painting. The situation brims with the kind of emotion needed for one.
Facts about sound:
\o7The ring of mountains makes it difficult for the sound of mortar shells to escape and it echoes back.
The muffled sound of the old Palestinian guns also returns in a muffled echo.
The noise made by the cries of the masses in protests and funerals also echoes, and it's difficult to distinguish between what is echo and what is not, making it hard to guess the distance and direction of the din until it seems that it comes from all directions and you think that perhaps it's soaked into the wind and has nothing to do with something that is really happening.\f7
A thought on the roof:
I stand on the roof of the hotel, learning my lines and looking at the city below, immersed in darkness, swept by chilly winds. It's amazing how frozen the landscape is; hours go by and you see no movement, as if you're looking at a picture. And I'm suddenly aware of how anthropological the situation is. They took people, imprisoned them within a few mountains -- let's see how they begin to behave. From this night on, I see the situation also in terms of a laboratory, test tubes and microscopes.
The average Nablus citizen and a lab mouse could understand each other and find many common topics of conversation.
Filming in the refugee camp El-Ain.