Gal Rosenbluth, who is Israeli, and Nayef Hammoud, who is Palestinian, met in Jerusalem’s Sam Spiegel Film school and have been together for the past eight years. On Oct. 7, when the Israel-Hamas war broke out, they had to cancel plans to attend Rome’s MIA TV market to personally pitch a series titled “Non Issue” that draws on their experience as a couple.
Still, “Non Issue” won the event’s Paramount+ Award for best series pitch at MIA. And, despite the psychic wounds and practical production impediments posed by the ongoing conflict, producer Ohad Ashkenazi of United Studios Israel, who is producing “Non Issue” in tandem with Efrat Drop for Israel’s Herzelia Studios, vows that “it will happen.”
Variety spoke to Rosenbluth and Hammoud via Zoom in their Tel Aviv apartment about how the war has prompted writer’s block and made their project seem “naive,” but also their hopes that the show will get made so that viewers can experience “the same emotions that we are having.”
How did “Non Issue” originate?
Rosenbluth: We are a real-life couple. We’ve been together for the past eight years. We met in film school, we studied at the Sam Spiegel Film School in Jerusalem and we got engaged about three years ago, actually in Rome, and we never got married. So that’s part of the conflict that is in our series called “Non Issue,” which is an international dramedy about love and identity.
What is the show’s basic concept?
Hammoud: Basically, it’s a show about relationships. We know all that having a romantic relationship is quite difficult. And now [for our characters], after the conflict and cultural clash and the tension between Palestinians and Israelis in Israel, even more so. But even outside Israel. Wherever. The show is about this.
Rosenbluth: Like us, the protagonists of our series, Naomi and Alaa, they really, really wanted to believe that the fact that she is Jewish and he is Palestinian would be a non-issue. But gradually, they discover it’s one hell of an issue for everyone around them. Like for their gossipy friends and so-called liberal families with liberal values, their bubble really bursts. So they decide that in order to be a regular couple without carrying the conflict daily in every little thing in their life, they have to move out of the country for a while.
Then what happens?
Hammoud: So they move to Berlin just to be a normal couple, as in building a future together; planning vacations together; arguing; fighting over who does the dishes; whatever.
Rosenbluth: Just being a normal couple, but far away from home. And then they become what they escaped from. The identity issue seeps into the relationship. So our character Naomi, the Israeli Jew character — back in Israel she couldn’t care less about preserving Jewish folklore. But in Berlin, she becomes obsessive about it. Suddenly, she starts to do Shabbat dinners for hipsters. And Alaa, who back home was always avoiding politics and keeping his head down, in Berlin he is kind of mesmerized by this whole new world of an Arab community and people from Arab countries that he couldn’t meet before when he lived in Israel. So he becomes this activist who won’t shut up. So for these two people who try to escape from the Middle East, the Middle East enters their relationship when they’re far away from home.
Hammoud: And the identity and the conflict also seep into daily life stuff, such as adopting a dog. It becomes a bigger question about which language to speak to this dog. Alaa suddenly realizes that their dog doesn’t react to Arabic. Only to Hebrew.
Are you going to incorporate the war in the narrative?
Hammoud: We’ve been writing the show for a long time, for six years. And we’ve changed it a lot. But right now our decision is to keep the normal, routine aspect of the show, and not to add the war to it.
Rosenbluth: Of course, it’s not because we are ignoring the war. On the contrary, we are really living this thing right now. But because we’re in the midst of this whole extreme, sad, chaotic situation, I don’t think we have the distance to understand if this is writing material for us at the moment.
The war must really impact your creative process.
Hammoud: Yes, for us as writers, as creators, as artists, our tools are our humanity and compassion. This is the reason why we wrote this show. We didn’t write it to find a solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. We wrote it because really we care about compassion, we care about humanity, we care about relationships and really we want to spread love. But in times of war, this system that is called compassion and humanity is turned off. So basically, it’s like having a cooker without a kitchen. You cannot write. So for us [the war] has just stopped the development [process] because we were turned off. Our tools are not with us because of all the death, all the tragedies. So it’s very hard to write this show and to develop it right now. For us it’s basically become like, “Oh, maybe we’re naive, maybe we’re stupid.”
Rosenbluth: Yes, but I’d like to add that Nayef and myself, we are storytellers. And our job is not to promote agendas. It’s more about asking questions. And our question is really like, “What is stronger, love or identity?” And our job is to put out the story that asks this question. And if the viewers will see the episodes and think about that, then we did our job.
Hammoud: We don’t want to talk about big collective stuff. We want to talk about our experience as individuals. We want the viewer to experience the same emotions that we are having, so that’s what they should expect when they see the show.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.