If you have read Thomas Hardy’s classic Tess of the d’Urbervilles, you might recall that the pretty yet poor protagonist Tess names her baby ‘Sorrow’ due to the miserable conditions in which he was born. In contrast, Darin J. Sallam has ironically named the protagonist of her film ‘Farha’ which means ‘joy and gladness.
The film ‘Farha’ is based on the true story of a Palestinian girl named Radiyyeh, who survived the 1948 ethnic cleansing and destruction of villages by Israeli militias. The event is commonly known as the Nakba (catastrophe). Like many other refugees, the young Radiyyeh, leaving her school admission form and her dream of becoming a teacher behind, took refuge in Syria. In Syria, Radiyyeh shared her story with a friend, and the friend told it to her daughter, Darin Sallam- who has written and directed the film under review.
The film starts with teenage girls joyfully chatting and playing near the waterfall while Farha, played by Karam Tahir- seems like a bookworm, as she always keeps her nose in a book. She studies the Holy Quran from the village sheikh along with her friends and demands a girls’ school in the village like the one for boys. She dreams to get admitted into a city school where she could study Geography, History, Math and English to become a teacher.
She mentions her dream of going to school in a way that reminds one of the countless young girls who dream of getting an education but are restrained from achieving their dream in one way or another. For instance, when a close friend and relative, Fareeda visits her from the city and expresses her love for the village, Farha tells her “let’s do something; you live in the village and I would live in the city” she continues “imagine if I were to go to school in the city. I would have a school bag and notebooks and pencils”.
Initially, her father refuses to send her to the city for further education however, when her uncle convinced him to let the girl study, he brings Farha a school admission form. The scene brings tears to the eyes when one is mindful of the thousands of girls whose dreams of going to school remain just dreams. When her father shows Farha the school admission form, she grabs the paper, kisses his hand, goes upstairs and screams “Farha is going to the city school! Fareeda (her friend) will be over the moon! And the Mayor (her father) is the best father in the whole village!”
A few days later, war breaks out and her father tries to send her to the city with Fareeda’s family but she refuses to leave her father alone. Conceiving no other place to secure his daughter, Abu Farha- as her father is known- locks her in the pantry promising he would be back soon. Days and nights pass but Abu Farha never returns. The scene inside the pantry perfectly depicts and symbolises the siege and suffering of the Palestinian people, not only of those who have been displaced but also of those who still struggle to survive under Israeli occupation.
Though Nakba refers to May 15th 1948 when Israel was established, the persecution of Palestinians did not start or end there. Just a week after the release of Farha on Netflix, an Israeli lawmaker tells a BBC reporter “if it’s (a choice between) one Israeli mother crying or 1000 Palestinian mothers crying; 1000 Palestinian mothers will cry”.
Quite shockingly, when Netflix decided to add the film to its streaming site on December 1st, many Israelis ran a campaign to discredit the movie. They left negative reviews of the film on IMDb, the internet’s famous film rating site due to which the film’s ratings went from 7.2 to 5.8 in a matter of hours on 1st December.
In the US, Fox News– a popular right-wing news outlet made the headline “Netflix faces backlash, exodus of subscribers, over ‘anti-Semitic’ film Farha: ‘Stop this disgrace’” with the subheadings “Netflix added the controversial film ‘Farha’ to its platform on December 1”.
It reminded me of the Israeli academic and author of many books on Palestine, Professor Ilan Pappé who was previously teaching at the University of Haifa in Israel and now teaches at the College of Social Sciences and International Studies at the University of Exeter in the UK. Prof. Ilan narrates the story of one of his Master’s students- Katz– who researched around five villages in Israel to find evidence of the Nakba.
The findings of Katz‘s research were quite shocking: “There were 60 hours of interviews about Tantura (village) and documents showing that around 200 villagers were either shot in cold blood or killed by angry soldiers who rampaged through the village in response to the deaths of around eight of their fellow soldiers. The executions were graphically described by Jewish and Palestinian eyewitnesses and alluded to in the documents, which also described mass graves dug near a graveyard where today there is a parking lot for the kibbutz built on the ruins of Tantura”.
For speaking up the truth, Mr Ilan lost his tenure track professorship and the student was dragged to the court, forced to confess that he had fabricated the thesis and was asked to re-write the thesis.
Shrewdly and smartly, Israel uses a two-prong strategy: it is not letting the world forget the holocaust while at the same time; it is not allowing the Palestinians to make their cries heard.
The result is, today everyone knows about the Jewish persecution- the Holocaust; nevertheless, very few know that Zionist armed groups expelled about 440,000 Palestinians from 220 villages in less than six months- from December 1947 to mid-May 1948. In total, around 720,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes during the Nakba.
While the Israelis have found freedom, power and friends, the displacement, occupation, and killings of Palestinians continue.
The writer has studied English Literature, History and Politics. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @nadeemKwrites
Thank you for writing this, FarHa is a must watch film and you feel the tension of the tightening noise around the Palestinians as the Zionist eject these people from their land and destroy Palestinian society.