‘Mataab’ breaking traditional taboos

Palestinian soap tackles touchy issues

BERLIN — Palestinian auds are getting an edgy sudser during the holy month of Ramadan, thanks in part to Germany’s leading educational and cultural org, the Goethe Institute.

“Matabb,” a 10-part series, was to begin airing daily on Palestinian pubcaster PBC on Sept. 1, the first day of this year’s Ramadan, a popular time for series in the Arab world when families gather around the set to eat after a day of fasting, but was pulled at the last minute. It’s now due to start the 20th day of Ramadan and run through the end of the month.

Producers say the broadcaster yanked the show due to technical problems, but they haven’t rule out the possibility that risque storylines may have ruffled feathers.

The soap is breaking traditional taboos on Palestinian TV, tackling issues such as politics, domestic violence, sexuality, womanhood and out-of-wedlock pregnancies.

“Matabb” is Arabic for “speed bumps.” It’s also a metaphor for the constant challenges facing Palestinian society, from having to pass through Israeli checkpoints to depending on Western-backed non-governmental orgs for work.

The show is a realistic portrait of Palestinian life, per Farid Majari, the producer and writer of the show and also director of the Goethe Institute in Ramallah, which produced the series with funding from the European Union and in collaboration with the German development agency GTZ and the Al-Quds U. in Jerusalem.

The series was born of a joint project between the Goethe Institute and the Al-Quds’ Institute of Modern Media that focused on the development of the sudser format.

The makers of “Matabb” worked closely with two German soap scribes, Gesine Hirsch and Christine Koch, head writers of “Dahoam Is Dahoam,” a hit daily on pubcaster ARD’s Bavarian affiliate Bayerischer Rundfunk. They also studied Germany’s longest-running soap, ARD’s “Lindenstrasse,” as well as successful U.S. and Arab series.

“We try to show how bad living conditions can lead a society to be more open to extremism,” writer-director George Khleifi says. “We want to illustrate the disparity between the more affluent cities of Ramallah and Jerusalem and the poorer outer areas.”

The soap, featuring Palestinian actors with local dialects, also discusses the conflict between Fatah and Hamas — but without naming the two main Palestinian parties — as well as the decline of the political left, Khleifi says.

The director, who also oversees production of “Shara’a Simsim,” the local version of “Sesame Street,” and who will next produce a feature film written and directed by brother Michel Khleifi (co-helmer of the 2004 documentary “Route 181: Fragments of a Journey in Palestine- Israel”), hopes to continue “Matabb” beyond its initial episodes, perhaps as an international co-production.

“We didn’t finish the series, we just made the first 10 episodes, but the storyline was written to be continued,” he says.

The budget for the first 10 episodes of “Matabb” was e170,000 ($245,000) — about what ARD spends on a single episode of “Lindenstrasse.”

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