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Palestine's 'Red Prince' star of new TV drama

A new TV series in Palestine offers insight into the controversial figure of Abu Hassan Salameh, Yasser Arafat's right-hand man and a possible back channel with the Americans.

RAMALLAH, West Bank — A new TV series will take up the complex political and private life of Palestine Liberation Organization's "Red Prince” Abu Hassan Salameh, who was assassinated by Israel with a 1979 car bomb in Beirut.

“The Red Prince” was a nickname given by Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir to Salameh, the smooth and well-educated son of Sheik Hassan Salameh, who died in 1948 fighting the emergence of Israel. Producer Sadek Sabbah said that he considered Salameh to be one of the most charismatic figures among the Arab militants that have fought for Palestinian liberation.

It will be the first TV series to tell the story of a top Palestinian leader. Previous cinema productions centered on less central figures such as “Naji al-Ali,” a 1990 film on the life of Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali who was assassinated in London.

In the series written by Hassan Sami Youssef and directed by Samer Barqawi, Salameh will be portrayed by Syrian actor Taim Hasan, known for his interpretation of Syrian poet and diplomat Nizar Qabbani and King Farouk of Egypt

Hasan told MBC Jan. 16 that he was happy to take up the challenging role of a key political figure with a rich private life.

The 15-episode series is expected to ignite debate on many topics including the loyalties of Abu Hassan, the lieutenant and confidant of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and one of the masterminds of Black September, the Fatah subgroup that took hostage and killed 11 Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics in 1972.

Part of the controversy was due to his good relations with US diplomats in Beirut, where he lived, as well as with US intelligence. He was also on good terms with all the Lebanese sides, including the Kataeb (Phalange) Party, which was hostile to the PLO and Palestinian cause. His private life was no less multifaceted. He had a playboy’s life before he fell in love with Georgina Rizk, a Lebanese model and Miss Universe of 1971. The son of a Muslim sheik married the Christian model in Beirut — his second wife — in 1977 and took her to honeymoon in Florida's Walt Disney World. Many thought the visit to be courtesy of the CIA.

Salameh was relentlessly pursued by Israeli security forces that blamed him for multiple operations abroad including the Munich operation and sending explosive packages to Mossad agents in Europe.

Sabbah said that the series is a “multifaceted production” and approaches the subject in a "non-classical” way.

The series is expected to be streamed after the end of Ramadan on video-on-demand site Shahid, which MBC group launched Jan. 15. Beirut-based Sabbah Media Corporation has released a trailer that includes black-and-white archival footage of Salameh with Arafat and Rizk. The teaser ends with Taim Hasan in the role of Salameh, telling Arafat over the phone that an assassination attempt failed when operatives killed another person who looked like him. Salameh was killed using a car loaded with heavy explosives in Beirut in January 1979.

Baker Abu Baker, chair of the Fatah Intellectual Academy, also known as Martyr Othman Abu Gharibeh Academy, told Al-Monitor that such historical and biographical productions offer a glimpse at the patriotic figures who left a footprint in the Palestinian liberation movement and encourage the younger generation to learn about them. 

“Focusing on his humanitarian side and his love for life does not undermine his role as militant,” he said.

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