Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

“Farha”: Palestinian Storytelling as a means for Justice

The film “Farha” was inspired by "Radieh," a Palestinian woman who survived the 1948 Nakba and walked from her village to Syria.

"Farha": Palestinian Storytelling
[Screenshot] Youtube/TiffTrailers/Farha
Dana Hourany

The film “Farha,” whose title translates to “joy” in Arabic and also happens to be the name of the lead character, was released on December 1. Based on the experiences of a young Palestinian girl during the 1948 Nakba (catastrophe), the movie tells her story. The Jordanian production focuses on one narrative out of several that portrays the tragedy of the Palestinians, when 700,000 people were forcefully uprooted and massacred by armed Zionist forces.

Farha, a 14-year-old girl whose village overrun by armed Zionist forces, is the film’s central protagonist. The young girl, portrayed by Jordanian actress Karam Taher, is locked in the pantry by her father out of concern for her safety, where she can observe through cracks the atrocities unfolding beyond her door.

The narrative then follows Farha as she transforms from a vivacious young student willing to challenge gender and societal standards in her town to a dejected victim of war and occupation who is witnessing the destruction of her entire world.

The film was based on the true account of a friend of the Jordanian director’s mother, who was a young child when the Nakba occurred and is now a refugee in Syria.

“I’m not afraid to tell the truth. We need to do this because films live and we die,” Darin J. Sallam told Arab News. “This is why I decided to make this film. Not because I’m political, but because I’m loyal to the story that I heard.”

Palestinian scholars and observers claim that the film gives Palestinians, especially those in the diaspora, a chance to revisit a wound that has lain dormant for far too long due to lack of accurate representations and retellings.

The Nakba and the pain

The Nakba one of the most painful episodes in the history of Palestine and the Palestinian people. Palestinians had already been subjected to several ethnic cleansing campaigns and genocide when Israel declared its statehood on May 15, 1948.

Over 300,000 individuals are thought to have left their homes in the months prior in search of safety abroad or in neighboring countries. To flee the violence, Palestinian families fled in droves, which ultimately caused 83 percent of the native population to be displaced.

Those who remained established pockets of control inside the West Bank and Gaza’s boundaries, with Israel controlling the remainder of the country.

The director told TIME that the story is relatable to all Palestinians, even descendants of survivors who did not personally witness the Nakba but who have lived to hear the stories as told by their families. The story was inspired by “Radieh,” a Palestinian woman who survived the events and walked all the way from her village to Syria.

“There are no movies about this specific time in Palestine. It’s missing in cinema,” Sallam said. “Like every Jordanian of Palestinian descent or any Arab, we grow up listening to stories about Palestine, of the Nakba. All these stories that I heard from my grandparents, families of friends, patched together to create the character of Farha.”

The director explained that the name was an allusion to a life before the Nakba, just before everyone lost their joy, as related by elders. The director asserted that her efforts to find Radieh have been in vain. Radieh’s story, however, has been confirmed in viewer feedback.

An enduring wound

According to Susan Abulhawa, a Palestinian American author and human rights advocate, the movie provided a look into a culture that has long been suppressed and kept out of the Western public eye.

She believes that this is a powerful venue where trauma may be understood and acknowledged. Stories highlighting Palestinian struggles are essential, as are ordinary stories of Palestinian lives and culture, according to Abulhawa, to counter Israeli propaganda and censorship at a time when Israeli forces have been increasing their violence against Palestinians, with at least 165 Palestinians killed in the West Bank alone, making 2022 one of the deadliest years in more than a decade.

The Israeli government has long sought to absolve itself of responsibility for the deaths of Palestinian civilians by blaming the victims and their families, framing them as terrorists and anti-Semites. Furthermore, Israel employs the media to garner worldwide recognition by conveying a progressive image in contrast to the perceived “backwardness” of the Palestinians, disguising the reality on the ground.

A report commissioned by Facebook’s parent company Meta reveals that during the widespread Palestinian revolt in May 2021, which was followed by the forcible eviction of Palestinian residents from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, Palestinian voices were muted on Facebook and Instagram. Accounts were restricted, organizations were dissolved or shadowbanned, users were suspended, and even profiles that expressed support for the Palestinians were impacted.

“We are the target of many attempts to silence us but our numbers are great and our stories and images are hard to deny,” Abulhawa said. “Art is an insistence on being heard. It touches people in different ways and allows for important conversations about the past to take place between family members.”

Facing the challenges

Abulhawa and many other viewers found it difficult to watch the movie. It not only exposed underlying scars but also shed light on Palestinians who are still in a state of physical and psychological turmoil as a result of having lived under Israeli oppression.

“Farha survives the aggression in her village, and in a masterful way, the film doesn’t trap viewers in an emotional spiral. It paints a story of survival, unlike other films on the topic that paint us solely as victims,” the writer said, emphasizing the importance of depicting Palestinian agency.

Earlier in August, Netflix released the Arab-produced series “Mo,” co-created by Palestinian-American comedian and creative, Mohammed Amer, and Egyptian-American comedian and actor Ramy Youssef. Critics predicted the show might help Western audiences and American youth to develop a greater understanding of US foreign policy as it pertains to Israel and how if effects the region in particular, and Palestine especially. But Abulhawa says that it is essential to maintain the focus on how Palestinians are inspired by artistic expressions of their struggle and history.

Farha did not pass without Israeli backlash. The film is replete with “lies and libels,” according to Israeli Minister of Culture Hili Tropper, who also claimed that showing it in Israeli theaters “is a disgrace.” An estimated 1,000 negative reviews were posted on the movie’s IMDB profile, which caused a sharp decline in the movie’s ratings.

Understanding cinema as a tool

According to Umayyah Cable, an assistant professor of American culture and film, television, and media at the University of Michigan, the film can be utilized by social movements to express their complaints and demands to a wider audience in addition to providing an archival and academic function.

Conversely, Cable contends that the industry, labor, and political activities that take place behind the scenes have a considerably greater impact on film’s power to alter the material circumstances of people’s life than does the depiction that appears on screen.

“Younger generations are, at least in the context of the United States, where I am situated, generally more politically progressive than their parents and grandparents generations,” Cable said. “As a result, there is certainly a greater interest in the Palestinian cause. But this generational shift is not the product of increased representations of Palestine in popular culture; rather, mass media is just reflecting this cultural shift back at us.”

Furthermore, Cable adds that economics factors into Netflix’s desire to capitalize on a developing market.

As for Cable’s personal reaction to Farha, the assistant professor described it as a combination of contradictory emotions.

“It’s encouraging to see a movie like this on a mainstream media platform, on the one hand. However, it is problematic that in order to persuade others that Palestinians deserve justice and freedom, their suffering must be graphically depicted on film.”

The expert claims that in their ethnographic research on Palestinian film culture in the diaspora, Palestinians in the diaspora frequently mention that one of the few ways they can access Palestine is through cinema. Film can be a useful resource for comprehending familial relationships and emotional difficulties, particularly when dealing with transgenerational trauma.

“It’s possible that the Nakba film will develop into a genre,” according to Cable. “Farha is more likely to spur the creation of more period pieces in the context of Palestinian cinema and films that support Palestine.”

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