Another season of the popular reality television show The Big Brother is coming to a close in Israel and Ynet has sat down with one of the most fascinating contestants who will not feature on Saturday’s grand finale — Riwa Raslan.
Raslan, whose casting was largely viewed as a gimmick at the beginning of the season, was born in Lebanon to a Christian family and moved to Israel at the age of four when the Israeli military withdrew from southern Lebanon at the end of the First Lebanon War in 2000.
Raslan’s father was a member of the South Lebanon Army — a Christian-dominated militia that allied with Israel against hostile Palestinian and Lebanese factions. He was critically wounded when an explosive charge detonated in his hands, which led to him losing his eyes, arms and one leg.
Raslan's painful and difficult relationship with her father was a recurring topic throughout her stay at the Big Brother house. Over time, she became one of the season's clear favorites and broke out beyond the ambit of the gimmick that defined her stay in her early days in the house.
Raslan says that one of the main reasons she opted to join the show was to promote her family’s restaurant which specializes in Mediterranean sweets, but also to add some spice to her life.
“I’ve reached a point in my life where nothing excites me, everything seems dull and repetitive. The Big Brother producers approached me, and I told myself that ‘here is an opportunity to do something that will rock my world’, that will move me, something fun,” she says.
Raslan says that her experiences inside the house allowed her to tap into emotions she had long suppressed, especially toward her family.
One of her biggest fears, which she often voiced, was what her father would think about her entering the house without him knowing, but a letter from her family she received during the season calmed her down a little.
“They told me that my father loves me very much, that he asks about me and is not angry,” she says. “My mom made sure to tell him what a source of pride his girl was and how proud of her he would have been if he could see how she stayed true to herself the whole way. I think he's proud."
Raslan says that part of her desire to test the limits stems from a feeling of incongruence between her Lebanese Arab and Israeli identities.
“Throughout the years, I felt a rift between two worlds, between the mentality I experienced during the day at school and the mentality that I experienced at home in the afternoon. It was very confusing, it’s a girl who turns into a young woman and that’s the way she grows up over the years,” she says.
“You feel very much like you belong, but you're also very much a stranger, and it's always been in between. I never knew how to find the balance between these two places. I tried to act like business as usual, but I always had the feeling that I might be lesser.
In the end, you are different, no matter how you look at it. I think that in the Big Brother house, because I was chosen out of so many people, it put me in the same slot as everyone else and it made me much more liberated."
Despite getting the approval she sought after her entire life, one ugly incident dampened Raslan’s experience in the house when one of the contestants launched a racist tirade against her during an argument in the early days of the season.
“It really hurt me because it came from an older and educated woman," she shares.
But that wasn’t enough to break Raslan’s spirit, who proved time and again how strong of a person she is, at times even taking on some of the house’s male tenants without batting an eye.
"I might be struggling with myself in this thing. We come from Lebanon, so it's a whole different mentality. You always had to prove yourself as a woman, that you are good enough, strong, with your own opinions, that you are present, that you exist,” she says.
“It always accompanied me and even when I entered the Big Brother house I wanted to say, 'guys, I'm here and I don't care how manly or full of muscles you are, I'm here and you can't ignore me'."
Raslan says that while she is single, she would much rather focus on the family business at the moment. Owing to the profound identity rift she described that has haunted her throughout her life, she says she would not consider dating a Jewish man.
“I want to bring children into the world who will grow up with a specific identity, who will know where they are coming from with a mother and father who are the same and I don't want them to feel torn,” she says.
“I've experienced this and it's hard, it's not an easy place, these are two worlds split in the same head and I want a much more whole future for them."
Raslan notes, however, that she does love Israel and its people very much and wishes to raise her children here.