A couple of days ago, I was intrigued by a preview I saw for "Sleepless in Gaza and Jerusalem," a reality show about life in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. To show the reality of life under occupation, the film crew follows several young Palestinian women throughout the occupied territories for 90 days as they go about their daily lives (the series is now two-thirds of the way in, and is available on youtube).
The young women picked for this series (including a TV presenter, a student, an accountant, and a journalist, among others) are quite interesting. From Ashira Ramadan (a westernized TV presenter with near perfect English fluency and a puppy in a t-shirt), to Nagham Mohanna (a Gaza journalist in a headscarf), to Ala' khayo (a Christian Palestinian accountant and resident of Jerusalem), they reflect a fair degree of the diversity that exists in Palestinian society. What stands out as a common characteristic among them is the bravery they exhibit in the face recurring difficult situations.
After watching a few episodes, I've come to realize the paradox in calling it a "reality TV show," given the literal accuracy of the term on the one hand, and its pop-culture connotations in the American context on the other (normally applied to shows that reflect no one's reality). But this is no American-style reality TV. Instead, it is a direct, unfiltered, and unpolished depiction of life in Palestine. Indeed, the show is so raw that it does not even edit out the occasional confused inquiries about the presence of the camera.
Another unique aspect of the show is that it develops organically: at the beginning, you can see that the young women at the center of the documentation are not quite sure how to interact with the camera. Ashira, for example, initially takes on the TV presenter persona she's accustomed to, before getting used to interacting more naturally in later episodes. Nagham is initially a bit apprehensive, but also eventually becomes more relaxed. One can easily see that this is no rehearsed attempt to present a preconceived message, but simply real life taking place.
While the show doesn't go out of its way to be political, it remains heavily so because life under a foreign military occupation is inherently and unavoidably political. Whereas political news reports highlight egregious cases of Palestinians being thrown out of their homes in illegally-occupied East Jerusalem for Israeli settlers take over, this show explores the less conspicuous but more sustained and widespread pressures of economic strangulation on Palestinian shopkeepers in the old city. And whereas human rights reports cover the massive infrastructural devastation of Gaza in the aftermath of Israel's assault over a year ago in statistical terms, this show brings that reality home by giving viewers a chance to meet the families that live without electricity or access to clean water.
From the terror of a 4:00am raid on a family's home to arrest a 10 year old boy, to the joy of kids who are taken to an amusement park beyond their financial means, to the horror of a family that discovers beating marks on the body of their son whom Israeli authorities alleged had committed suicide in prison (and the bravery of the women exploring and documenting these stories), the series takes you on an emotional journey which authentically delivers the reality of Palestinian life.
Of course, one can certainly learn all the cold facts about the occupation by reading books and human rights reports, watching documentaries, or listening to lectures. But, like Anna Baltzer's moving and notable book Witness in Palestine, what this series offers is a better grasp on what it really feels like to live everyday under the occupation.