Basma Abualila, a journalist and filmmaker living in Gaza, recently caused a stir in the strip with her short film on rape in Gaza. In her 10-minute film, “ A Call at Night," based on a real-life incident, a young woman shares her story of how she was raped by her boyfriend and then forced to marry her rapist out of fear when she got pregnant.
“He said he needed to talk to me but said we couldn’t talk while standing in the street because everyone was watching us. So he asked me to get into his car to talk. I get into the car and he puts something over my face,” the woman tells Abualila in a telephone conversation in the film.
What then happens is unclear. The woman remembers nothing after getting into the car with the man. She wakes up hours later in an apartment with her clothes torn off and a terrible headache. Her boyfriend is in the room, looking at her from a distance. She believes she has been drugged.
One month later, the woman realizes she is pregnant. Afraid she will face harsh consequences from her family, she sees marriage as the only way out.
She pleads to her rapist to marry her. But he refuses, citing financial difficulties.
“I told him that my family will kill me and that it wasn’t my fault, but he answered that he could not marry me right now because he had no money. I had inherited some gold from my mom and gave it to him so that he could bring money in order for us to get married. But he took it and did nothing,” says the woman.
In desperation, the rape victim goes to a local women’s support center in Gaza for help.
But instead of raising a legal case against the rapist, the social worker pressures the boyfriend to marry the rape victim.
When the social worker threatens to involve the police, the man finally agrees to wed, according to the victim.
The couple ends up moving in with the boyfriend’s parents.
For the rape victim, life has become a nightmare.
“I’m dying each minute. Being married to this rapist kills any feeling of life inside me. I’m also carrying a baby which is the result of his crime. I don’t know how I will I receive this baby. What do I tell him? Maybe it would have been better if I died in that ‘accident,’ ” she says in the film.
Abualila (pictured) says she decided to do the film to show “the other side of Gaza.”
“Everyone looks at Gaza as a place of constant fighting. But we’re a community we too and we have problems that we have to deal with,” Abualia told Babylon & Beyond during an interview in Stockholm.
Abualia feels like issues such as sexual harassment and violence are on the rise in the strip, referring to the situation as “a bomb that will explode at any point.” But no one is addressing the problem, she says.
As for her film, “A Call at Night” received a mixed response in Gaza.
Abualia says she received praise from several in her community for daring to put out a film on a taboo subject.
Others, however, viewed the film with skepticism.
Some of the critics wondered why Abualila would do a film about unmarried "sex."
“There was one who said he felt like it was a sex film," Abualia said. "It shocked me.”
Although the film may have helped generate more discussion about rape, Abualia emphasizes that there is still a long way to go. She says she found while working on the film that few rape victims in Gaza dare to speak out.
“Girls here are scared, very scared, to talk about it," she said. "Girls have even been killed here because there have been doubts they may have been raped. ... No one is doing anything about the issue.”
-- Alexandra Sandels in Stockholm
Video: "A Call at Night," a short film by Basma Abualila
Photo: Director Basma Abualila. Credit: Jonny von Wallstrom / Swedish Institute