Born in Nazareth, raven-haired Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass jump-started her career in European films. Early parts included those of a policeman's wife in Rashid Masharawi's contemporary drama Haifa (1996), that of a North African immigrant during a period of intense anti-Algerian discrimination in Bouriem Guerdjou's fine, overlooked drama Vivre au Paradis (1998), and the role of Om-Younes in Yousry Nasrallah's controversial Israel-Palestine epic Bab el Chams (The Door to the Sun).
Abbass moved into Hollywood work courtesy of (and at the behest of) no less than Steven Spielberg, when the director cast her in a small role in his early '70s-set political thriller Munich. After this, Western roles began to arrive quickly and furiously; they included the mother of a terrorist (in the jihad-themed thriller Paradise Now ) and the mother of the Virgin Mary (in Catherine Hardwicke's biblical cinematization The Nativity Story), in addition to a supporting role in Jean Becker's low-key seriocomedy Conversations with My Gardener (2007). Abbass then returned to Israel for the lead in Lemon Tree, a comedy about a Palestinian woman who refuses the minister of defense's bids to have her lemon tree torn down.