Palestinian bomber unlikely star of Israeli film

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TEL AVIV, Sep 12 (Reuters) A Palestinian suicide bomber is the unlikely star of a new Israeli film billed by its director as an effort to destroy prejudices that fuel conflict in the West Asia.

Scheduled to be screened in early 2008, the film stands to make cinematic history in the Jewish state, where movie-makers tend to shy away from treating the controversy of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Its makers say that by personalising the bomber -- named Tarek and portrayed as coming from the West Bank town of Tulkarm -- they hope to show Israelis the complex motives behind many such attacks in the Jewish state.

''Behind the belts and the suicide bombers and the victims, there are real people, with feelings, motives and fears,'' Israeli director Dror Zehavi told Reuters during a recent filming session in Tel Aviv.

Tarek is a Palestinian youth who infiltrates from the Israeli-occupied West Bank wearing a belt packed with explosives which he intends to detonate in a busy outdoor market in Tel Aviv.

The bomb's switch fails to operate, and he seeks the help of an unwitting Israeli electrician, whom he ends up befriending, in addition to another young Israeli woman who lives on the same block.

He never completely backs out of his plan, feeling compelled to carry out the attack to placate militants back in the West Bank who have threatened to kill his father if he reneges.

But he does make an effort to keep his Israeli friends out of harm's way, say the filmmakers, who have given the movie the working title of ''Shabat Shalom Maradona'' (Good Sabbath Maradona), a nod to Tarek's passion for soccer and Argentine superstar Diego Maradona.

''Our goal in making this film is to build a bridge between Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, to allow for reconciliation despite the very explosive situation in which we live,'' Zehavi said.

Dozens of suicide bombings have killed more than 400 people in Israel since 2000, though the frequency of these attacks has subsided in recent years. In all some 4,200 Palestinians and 1,030 Israelis have died in fighting and armed attacks in a wave of violence since peace talks failed seven years ago.

STEREOTYPES In the movie, Zehavi said the would-be bomber's explosives belt ''symbolises the stereotypes that we need to explode''.

The bomber ''isn't motivated by hatred of Jews or wanting to destroy Israel'', Zehavi added. ''He's trying to save his father's life.'' The movie is based in part on accounts divulged by Israeli security agents, following several thwarted bombings in which suspects have said their motives were more personal than ideological.

While many Israeli films portray war and the hallowed military of a country that has fought seven wars and confronted two Palestinian uprisings over 60 years, Zehavi's is the first to tackle the sensitive subject of suicide bombings.

His film is sure to stir controversy in Israel. Critics have already panned the subject. A recent article in the Maariv tabloid newspaper denounced it as a ''cultural bomb''.

Israelis protested when the award-winning Palestinian movie ''Paradise Now'' -- about a suicide bomber pair -- was nominated for a best foreign language film Oscar in 2005, a prize it ended up losing to South Africa's ''Tsotsi''.

Shredi Jabarin, a young Israeli Arab actor who plays Tarek, expects to weather some criticism for his role: ''I have to play a character that everyone hates, yet I have to try to make the audience love him. It's complicated,'' Jabarin says.

Zehavi cites recent Israeli-Palestinian efforts to renew stalled peace talks as a sign Israel is ready for such a film.

Producers also hope for a box office boost from at least one popular actor in a key supporting role.

Shlomo Vishinsky, a member of one of Israel's foremost theatre groups called the Cameri, will add populist punch in the role of the electrician who befriends Tarek.

Vishinsky's own son died two years ago in a gun battle with Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. His personal tragedy hasn't shaken his conviction of a need to compromise for peace, the actor said in an interview.

He said he hopes the movie can drive home the point that both Israelis and Palestinians have shed too much blood in conflict.

''You never know what goes on in their (Palestinians') heads.

We think they just want to be some religious martyr, but this guy is acting more on personal than political reasons,'' Vishinsky said.

''After all that has happened, most people just want peace.'' REUTERS JT KP0851

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