Abu-Assad, who works out of Holland but is now looking for a house in Hollywood Hills, had expected to lose as he did earlier this month to martial arts comedy Kung Fu Hustle at the Broadcast Film Critics awards.
He said he just assumed that too many people had either not seen his film or simply assumed it was too controversial. After all, Palestinian films are a rarity in the United States, especially ones that try to explain the politics of despair.
In his acceptance speech, Abu-Assad made a plea for a Palestinian state, saying he saw the Golden Globe as "recognition" that the Palestinians deserve their liberty and equality unconditionally.
Next stop Oscar
Winning the Globe also gives Paradise Now a major boost in its fight for an Oscar on 5 March. Its next hurdle is to become one of the five foreign films nominated for an Academy Award on 31 January. No Palestinian film has been nominated before.
"I am surprised that we won; but I don't believe my film is controversial. It just shows something from a different side that we are all worried about," he told reporters backstage at the Globes.
Abu-Assad insisted he had not taken sides in the film but had tried to explain why two seemingly simple garage mechanics would be willing to kill themselves and others. His film presents arguments on all sides of the issue.
The film's controversial subject
had not made it a favourite
"It is a work of cinema. Cinema shows you different points of view," he added.
To make the movie, Abu-Assad had to dodge a missile attack from Israel plus skirt landmines and threats from extremists.
But the filming in the West Bank city of Nablus, where his location manager was briefly kidnapped as a warning by factions afraid the film would be critical, was just one hurdle. Now he has to see if anyone is listening as he tries to explain a new fact of modern life.
Paradise Now wants the viewer to understand the mindset that produces such acts as suicide bombings - because, as Abu-Assad says, to understand is a first step forward.
Sign of impotence
One scene in his movie is set in a West Bank video shop that might pass for one in the United States or Europe except that it sells tapes made by bombers who explain their actions to inspire those that follow. The tapes seem to take on the role that baseball trading cards might have in the United States.
Abu-Assad says he believes that impotence fuels the bombings. And his characters' words underlie that thought as they go through their daily lives in occupied territory that the film presents as an airless, hermetically sealed prison.
"The feeling of impotence is so strong that they kill themselves and others to say, 'I am not impotent'"
"Under the occupation, we're already dead... In this life we are dead anyway... If we can't live as equals, at least we can die as equals," are typical refrains in the film.
The filmmaker says: "The feeling of the impotence is so strong that they kill themselves and others to say, 'I am not impotent.' It is a very complex situation, but the overriding umbrella is the injustice situation."
He says his film does not impose a point of view but instead tries to show "something invisible and that has never been done before".