by Jared Mobarek | TIFF
The text reads: Palestine, 1948. That’s all you need to know to understand what’s coming.
A year earlier was the start of the Palestinian Civil War between Jewish and Arab residents after the United Nations recommended the land’s separation in a Jewish and Arab state. Israel declared independence in May of 1948 and, as some history books describe it, a mass exodus arose to render about half of the nation’s pre-WWII Arab population (700,000) into refugees without a home. To simply call it an exodus, however, is misleading. Most of these people didn’t choose to leave as a means of finding settlement elsewhere. They were driven out by Israeli military forces who in turn destroyed villages and murdered so-called “rebel forces” in an ethnic cleansing that continues today.
As anyone following the news knows, using the term genocide for what happened/is happening has always been a hotly disputed topic thanks to some people’s inability to separate anti-Zionism from anti-Semitism. And being that America is a huge Israeli ally, advocating for the lives and freedoms of a Palestinian people who had their land stolen from them only to subsequently be treated like second class citizens upon the land they were given (that was then also stolen despite agreements made) is likely to get you labeled the latter. As such, we’re taught to dismiss Palestinians as terrorists like many other Muslim groups. It’s thus important for Arab artists and historians to dare to combat that stereotype by telling their stories too. Darin J. Sallam‘s drama Farha is one.
In it she tells the real-life story of a fourteen-year-old girl named Radiyyeh whose village was destroyed during the Al-Nakba (Catastrophe). Names are changed and events are dramatized, but it remains the same tale this young woman told upon reaching Syria that’s endured for generations. At its start is our introduction to the renamed Farha’s (Karam Taher) headstrong teenage rebellious streak in telling her Quran teacher that women should be worrying less about marriage and more about education. Her cousin/best friend Farida (Tala Gammoh) is lucky enough to live in the city to experience the latter while life in the village leaves Farha with many fewer options. Her father (Ashraf Barhom‘s Abu Farha) is their mayor, however, and thus has the means to send her too.
They’re living in a tumultuous time, though. The British are leaving and the Arab villages have no means of defending themselves from the progressing Israeli forces coming to fill that void. On one hand Abu Farha wants his daughter to remain close as they await the Arab League’s promised assistance. On the other, he knows her potential and desire to learn could ultimately help them all in the long run. There just isn’t enough time to get affairs in order before the explosions start. Suddenly Farha is left with a choice of her own: flee with Farida’s family north or stay by her father’s side. Why she picks the latter comes with additional motivation, but it hardly matters once desperation leads her to being locked inside the pantry.
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