The Tragedy of Farha Has a Striking Resemblance to the Events That Prefaced It
This article was originally published on A Hot Set
The 1940s saw large ethnic groups being dispossessed, displaced and demonized by the violent pursuit of nationalism. In hearing this, the mind immediately goes to the undeniable horrors of the Holocaust, but a fact that seems to have escaped the public consciousness is that this didn’t happen only once or to a single community during that period.
The Second World War culminated in over six million Jewish people being murdered in cold blood, and it subsequently became the West’s priority to provide relief to the survivors of said disaster. The United Nations henceforth carved out and established a Jewish state in “a land without a people for a people without a land.” This only seemed fair until it became clear that the region in question was Palestine, a highly populated settlement that didn’t reflect the slogan that sought to delegitimize it.
What is often rushed over as an ordeal “too complex” to settle in this lifetime is in fact quite simple: one calamity prompted another, and the only way to justify the latter was by trivializing and distorting its true nature. Reparations for the mass killings in Europe took shape in over 750,000 Palestinians being expelled from their homes in 1948 and 78% of their land being taken over by Zionist forces. This oft-forgotten and underrepresented event, also known as Al-Nakba (Arabic: “the Catastrophe”), has since been obscured by the war that preceded it and the efforts to remedy its damage.
After spending decades in the shadow of Eurocentric politics, the plight of the Palestinian mass exodus has finally been revealed with an emphasis on human rights violations to audiences across the world. Following a series of festival screenings, Farha was released on Netflix at the start of December. This film is based on the real-life experiences of a Palestinian woman who survived Al-Nakba and the atrocities she witnessed while coming of age amid the annexation of her homeland. The affected natives and their descendants remain in limbo to this day, kept at bay by an American-backed military superpower that operates on the same shoot-first-questions-late model of enforcement that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.
Written and directed by Jordanian filmmaker Darin J. Sallam, this historical biography documents the lethal force with which Israel materialized the Zionist blueprint by anchoring itself in the Middle East. The titular character, Farha, is based on a woman named Radiyyeh, who managed to escape to Syria after her village fell to the occupying army. Only 14 years old when the British evacuated Palestine, she was left with no option but to look on as her dreams of pursuing a holistic education came crumbling down over the span of a few days.
The plot doesn’t have the density of a blockbuster Hollywood project, which brings viewers closer to the events that inspired it. It isolates a perspective and gives viewers a deep, intricate look into the lingering crisis that has denied generations of Arabs the compassion they are entitled to.
A majority of the movie shows Farha hiding inside a pantry as the Arab resistance goes up against the Israeli army. This is a key detail: the turmoil in Palestine is and has always been a one-sided conflict between a solid military force and a scrappy rebellion. Though a war by definition, it has only ever had slanted outcomes in favor of the Zionist regime.
The central character, played by the extraordinarily talented Karam Taher, makes it practically impossible to detach yourself from her adversity. It feels like you’re locked inside the storage unit with her while her world is reduced to nothing just a few feet away. She sits in silence as everything she was once familiar with is destroyed, navigating her helplessness with a resilience Muslim women are often cornered into from an early age as a result of being condemned to the very bottom of most social structures.
Bombs go off and guns are fired, but Farha has no choice but to stay passive while her people perish. The film climaxes when a team of Israeli soldiers execute a Palestinian family consisting of two young girls and a newborn baby based on unverified suspicions of their parents hiding weapons—this is a practice that has persisted into the 21st century as Western troops continue to murder innocent civilians in the “third world” without consequence.
When Farha re-emerges from her shelter, nothing is the same—her father is gone, believed to have been killed in the armed struggle; the village is empty with every inhabitant having been driven out; any prospects of her going to school no longer exist because there’s no school for her to go to. Through it all, you can feel her pain and the sense of defeat with which she walks into a future as bleak as her surroundings.
From 1947 and 1949, the Israeli military attacked major cities in Palestine and destroyed approximately 530 villages. Some 15,000 natives were killed over this period. With time, Palestinian rights have further diminished as the situation continues to worsen each year. Though the Israeli government has asserted that their military’s depiction in Farha is inaccurate, the reality of modern-day Palestine is not at all commensurate with this claim.
The film was released within a 72-hour bracket that saw the killing of 10 Palestinian civilians, each accounted for as defensive retaliation or counterterrorism. Numerous deaths caused by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), when observed via footage, do not match the army’s narrative. Reports now indicate that this has been the deadliest year in Palestine since 2006. The causalities in Israel, though far disproportionate to those in Palestine, mustn’t be taken lightly either. It should come as no surprise that people on both sides of a violent dispute will die, which brings us to the question that continues to torment the Middle East: why can’t both sides get along?
Put simply, living among those who seized and continue to ethnically cleanse your land isn’t exactly the sweet deal it’s made out to be. Farha sheds light on the brutal transition of power that birthed Israel, and by placing it in the context of what’s happing in that same area even today, Sallam aims to show the world that submitting to colonizers is not a peace agreement. The God-given claim that validated the 1948 takeover positioned the Zionist ideology at the center of a land that conceived three of the five major religions of the world, rendering everyone else undeserving.
Farha gives us a glimpse into the other side—one that has always existed but rarely seen the light of day. The script doesn’t demand complex cinematography, costumes, makeup or any of the other elements that make a film theatrical. This is a story about humanity that is carried by Taher’s commitment to amplifying one woman’s suffering, and she executes it flawlessly.
By focusing on just one story, the film stresses how millions of Palestinians spanning several generations—refugees as well as those suffocated by the IDF in the West Bank and Gaza today—have spent their entire lives aspiring to and being denied the bare minimum. Among them are countless children who never got to experience the necessary and gradual coming-of-age process. In concealing her presence from the invaders outside, Farha is forced into an irreversible state of dismal adulthood as she witnesses murder, copes with deprivation and menstruates for the very first time. With no room to breathe upon reaching puberty, she is instantly burdened with the qualms of maturity.
Three years prior to Al-Nakba, a Jewish girl in Amsterdam was dealt a fate similar to Radiyyeh, except she didn’t live to tell her story. Fortunately, the diary from her time in hiding was discovered and published after the war, immortalizing her endurance. One of the most significant texts of the modern world, The Diary of Anne Frank serves as a cautionary reminder against willful oblivion.
It is for this exact reason that Radiyyeh deserves to have her story told as well, and Farha accomplishes that.