The border wall between Gaza and Israel
The border wall between Gaza and Israel
Photo: Gettyimages
The border wall between Gaza and Israel

Coronavirus epidemic turns Gaza script into reality

Many years before the COVID-19 epidemic, a British-Palestinian filmmaker imagined a world where Israelis will escape to the Gaza Strip for safety from a horrible disease; 38 year old Basil Khalil says despite grim subject matter, film is set to be a satirical comedy

Amir Bogan |
Published: 04.06.20 , 21:17
The coronavirus epidemic in Israel and around the world has turned our lives upside down and filled them with much uncertainty.
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  • But this reality, has been part of Basil Khalil's daily routine for the past years.
    The border wall between Gaza and Israel The border wall between Gaza and Israel
    The border wall between Gaza and Israel
    (Photo: Gettyimages )
    The Palestinian-British native of Nazareth is not an epidemiologist or a scientist, but a 38-year-old filmmaker.
    His new film "A Gaza Weekend" focuses on the isolated and locked down Gaza Strip, where Israelis escape to after a massive epidemic tear the country apart.
    Khalil has worked on the novel script for a number of years and even managed to start filming in Haifa last March until the COVID-19 epidemic shut everything down.
    "A new epidemic of a mutant virus breaks out in Israel, and the country is cut off from the rest of the world by land, air and sea. As a result Israel is in a state of chaos, and the people stranded there are willing to do anything in order to get out. The Gaza Strip however, is the only uninfected place due to the separation wall," said the 2010 synopsis presented at the Torino Film Lab in Italy.
    The updated script even managed to win a grant of £875,000 from the British Film Institute, saying that "when a viral epidemic consumes Israel, Gaza becomes the safest place in the region and sees one man accept a fast-cash job to smuggle a couple out of the country."
    Basil Khalil at the 2015 Oscar Ceremony Basil Khalil at the 2015 Oscar Ceremony
    Basil Khalil at the 2015 Oscar Ceremony
    (Photo: Gettyimages )
    Despite the horrific scenario portrayed in Khalil's script, the plot is a satirical comedy that introduces Waleed, an unsuccessful Palestinian shoe salesman from Gaza. He accepts a small fast-cash job smuggling some rich Israeli Jews into Gaza, through the same tunnels that are used to smuggle weapons. The cunning plan is to then put them onto an aid boat leaving from Gaza’s port. This small job turns into a small disaster when the boat is delayed and he is stuck with three Israelis in his basement.
    Waleed is somehow expected to come up with an epic escape plan to smuggle these Israelis (whom he has learned to love… almost) over the 100 meters from his house to the port in time to catch the next aid boat out of Gaza, but it isn’t long before the gossip of hidden Israelis gets out onto the street.
    Khalil, who was born and raised in Nazareth, to a Palestinian father and a British mother, studied at the Screen Academy in Scotland. He first came to the public's attention in 2015 with his film "Ave Maria," which was nominated for an Oscar for best short film.
    The 14-minute comic short tells of Palestinian Catholic nuns in a West Bank convent who have an encounter with Israeli settlers.
    "A Gaza Weekend" is a Palestinian, British and Qatari co-production, set to star as Waleed Adam Bakri, son of famed Arab-Israeli actor and director Mohammad Bakri, who played alongside Kiera Knightley in the film "Official Secrets."
    "סוף שבוע בעזה". תמונת קונספט"סוף שבוע בעזה". תמונת קונספט
    Concept shot for "A Gazan Weekend"
    The film is also set to Stephen Mangan, of "Episodes" fame.
    "Being half Palestinian, half British and brought up in Israel I was always able to look at the Israeli-Arab issues with different eyes," said Khalil in his grant request for the film in 2010.
    "I was able to experience both sides of the argument and learned to respect both people as human beings and for who they are. From what I see, that mutual respect is what both sides lack, these days. Seeing the other side as an equal human being isn’t popular anymore.
    "A Gaza Weekend is an action comedy film set in the non-specific near future. It embodies a sense of humor the people of that region have honed, similar to that of the ghetto humor of the 1940s. In my opinion, it is about time the world saw a wider range of films from the Middle East, and this is the perfect opportunity to break out with something new and refreshing, a comedy with a heart. I want this film to be snappy, engaging, thrilling and most of all I want this film to display that the idea of opening doors of understanding will lead to a better future and will work for everyone".

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