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Ramadan drama to document life of Yehya Ayyash

A joint Palestinian-Syrian drama series telling the life of Hamas bomb-maker Yehya Ayyash is poised to become the most popular show for tens of millions of Arab viewers during the holy month of Ramadan, which begins Friday.

Ayyash, a resident of Rafat village in the northern West Bank, was responsible for a spate of suicide bombings that killed more than 100 Israelis between 1994 and 1996. He was assassinated by Israel in 1996 when his booby-trapped mobile phone exploded in his face.

Ayyash, who was nicknamed "The Engineer" because of his expertise in preparing and handling different kinds of explosives, has since become a legend for Hamas and other Palestinian groups. Some have gone as far as comparing the Bir Zeit university graduate to Salah Eddin, the heroic Muslim warrior who drove the Crusaders out of Jerusalem.

Many Arab TV stations broadcast month-long dramas during Ramadan as a form of entertainment. Last year Hizbulah's Al Manar TV station broadcast a controversial series – also produced by a Syrian film company – based on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Palestinian actor Samer Al-Masri plays the role of Ayyash in the new drama, called Ayyash. Actress Matia Nabwani appears as Ayyash's wife, Hiyam.

Hiyam, who remarried a few months after her husband's death, expressed hope that the new drama would accurately reflect the reality and present her husband in a fair manner.

Hiyam told the AlArabiya.net Web site that the producers did not consult her or any member of the family before making the drama. "I hope they will give the martyr the treatment he deserves because he's a national hero and leader," she said. "I wish they had contacted us so that we could review the drama before it goes on the air."

Hiyam said she was concerned that the drama would present her without a hijab (head cover) or in an "unacceptable conduct" with her husband. "I still don't know how they will present me," she added. "If I appear without a hijab it will be a disaster and I will boycott the series. Yehya Ayyash is a big Muslim hero and we want to maintain his shining image. He was also a religious person."

Hiyam said she and Ayyash's family were hoping that the drama would be along the lines of the popular film Omar Al-Mukhtar, which is based on the life of the national hero of Libya (1860-1931).

A member of the Senusy, a religious organization with administrative and military functions, Al-Mukhtar led the anti-colonial resistance in Cirenaica from 1923 to 1931, when he was captured by the Italians and condemned to death. For several decades the film depicting his life has been among the most popular in the Arab world and a source of inspiration for liberation movements and organizations.

Palestinian writer and literary critic Salah Al-Bardawil dismissed the fears of Hiyam and expressed hope that the drama would present an "honorable" portrait of Yehya Ayyash. "There's no need to worry," he said.

Bardawil noted that the main theme of the drama would be "rejection of the occupation and Zionist and American hegemony, the importance of resistance and the need to avenge the blood of the (Palestinian) victims."

He said the timing of the drama was significant "because it supports the forces fighting against Israeli and American oppression and aggression in Palestine, Iraq and the Arab and Muslim region." The Gaza-based writer said the drama would also serve as a model for young and ambitious people in the Arab world.

Diana Jabour, who wrote the script for the new drama, said she avoided using her imagination and relied only on facts. Asked why she had chosen the Hamas bomb-maker as her hero, Jabour explained: "I was deeply impressed by his personality. Whenever I heard about a suicide attack, the name of The Engineer would be linked to it. I soon discovered that his real name was Yehya Ayyash and started collecting material about him."

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