Netflix ‘Farha’, One View of Zionist Militia Attack on Palestinians during 1948 Nakba, Angers Israelis, Bemuses Palestinians
By: John Mason / Arab America Contributing Writer
Farha is a Palestinian film about the Nakba, the catastrophic moment in 1948 when Zionist militias drove out the Palestinians. The heroine, Farha, sees the ensuing atrocities through a peephole in a pantry where her father hides her away. This film is especially relevant today, given the recent election of the most far right and extremist politicians in Israel’s history. As their payoff for supporting Benjamin Netanyahu, Jewish supremacists of the Religious Zionism party will soon be in charge of Palestinian affairs
‘Farha’—Does it Express the ‘Palestinian Right to Process Pain through Art’ or is it ‘an Antisemitic Disgrace?’
Farha is a Palestinian film about the Nakba, the catastrophic moment in 1948 when Zionist militias cleared the way for Israeli takeover of Palestine. Over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs were displaced and dispossessed, as Zionist militias fought five attacking Arab armies in the first Arab Israeli war. Palestinians are blamed for rejecting the United Nations partition plan that would have given Jews and Arabs their own states. That fact is balanced off against the fact that Nakba, according to the Times of Israel, “painfully uprooted families from their homes, properties and native land.”
Farha opens with a shot of a Palestinian girl sitting in a verdant orchard. British soldiers are fleeing upon the breakdown of Britain’s League of Nations mandate. At the time, Farha is torn between continuing her schooling in the city or sticking around in the village where her father is mayor. Forces of tradition vie against a more modern, educated life for his daughter. The modern side, however, seemed to be winning out. Meanwhile, Zionist militias, which morphed into the Israeli Defense Force, soon interrupted Farha’s dreams and hopes.
These troops swooped in to overtake Farha’s village. Her father had locked her in a pantry, from which she observed through a peep hole what the film depicts as atrocities by the invading troops. Farha listens to militia voices, telling the villagers to leave. She observes militia officers killing villagers, including a newborn baby. News source Intercept noted, “She watches from her hiding place as the Israeli soldiers execute her family in cold blood while leaving her newborn sibling to die.” Because the filmmakers marketed the story as ‘true events,’ Israeli backlash has been fierce. And that is when the accusation of ‘antisemitic’ rears its ugly head.
Backlash against Farha invoked social media user threats to cancel the streaming service. Fox Business reported, “Netflix faces backlash, the exodus of subscribers, over ‘antisemitic’ film Farha: ‘Stop this disgrace’.” A former Israel Defense Force soldier responded, “don’t give a platform to a film that defames Israel and presents the IDF as baby killers!” Outgoing finance minister, Avigdor Lieberman, reacted, saying, “It’s crazy that Netflix decided to stream a movie whose whole purpose is to create a false pretense and incite against Israeli soldiers.”
Why the Filmmaker was Compelled to make Farha
In interviews, the director, Palestinian Jordanian Darin Sallam told the Guardian she made the film “because while many narrative films tell Palestinian stories, very few focus on the root cause of the conflict and occupation.” It is the story of her mother’s friend, whom her mother had met as a young woman in Syria. “The story travelled over the years to reach me. It stayed with me. When I was a child, I had this fear of closed, dark places and I kept thinking of this girl (Farha, meaning happiness, joy in Arabic) and what happened to her,” Sallam said.
Farha is Sallam’s debut film. It has been shown in film festivals around the world. It is Jordan’s entry for the 2023 Oscars and was released Thursday on Netflix. “To this day,” the Guardian wrote, “the Nakba is burned into the soul of Palestinians, and it is one of the key issues that will have to be settled should Israel and the Palestinians ever decide to negotiate an end to their bitter conflict.” Nakba, beyond its meaning of ‘catastrophe,’ more specifically refers to what some Palestinians refer to as the ‘the ethnic cleansing and displacement of about 700,000 of their people.’ Israeli officials say Farha creates a ‘false narrative.’
Many viewers of Farha don’t agree with the ‘false narrative’ accusation. They say, instead, “We are committed to defending our right to exist and to express ourselves … We are committed to freedom of art, all art.” Of course, many Israelis are highly sensitive about the idea that Zionist militias committed atrocities against the Palestinians.
Many social media users have also supported Sallam and the film. Middle East Eye reported on one such user, Rohan Talbot, who works for Medical Aid for Palestinians, an organization that provides help to those in Palestine. Talbot said, “Good that Netflix had picked this film up, I hope it won’t cave to the inevitable hate campaign that seeks always to prevent Palestinian voices being heard.” Others noted their enthusiasm, saying “they looked forward to watching the film and praised Netflix for broadcasting the Palestinian perspective.”
Sallam and her producers issued a statement, according to publication Mille, following Israeli government opposition. They avowed, “These attempts to silence our voices as Semite/Arabs and as Women filmmakers to dehumanize us and prevent us from telling our stories, our narrative and our truth are against any freedom of speech.” They added, “The film exists, we exist, and we will never be silenced.” It is not only the historical memory of Nakba that the film addresses. It also is a tool for reminding us of “the continued traumas suffered by millions of Palestinians living as occupied subjects of the Israeli military.”
Far from simply showing the wartime Israeli military in a bad light, Farha has tweaked the memories of Israeli historians. These historians have depicted scenes showing the murder of a Palestinian family. “Yet far from being unthinkable, such incidents have been documented by Israeli historians as common during the Nakba.”
Further, Jewish soldiers involved in the Nakba attacks attested to horrific scenes. For example, “babies whose skulls were cracked open, women raped or burned alive in houses, and men stabbed to death,” according to expatriate Israeli historian Ilan Pappe.
How the people and their children suffered through the Nakba and how they have a right to be memorialized is best left to a quotation from the publication Intercept. “Farha is now available to millions of people to watch on Netflix. Despite attempts to shut down its production, there is a strong case to make that it should be seen — though not to deepen hatred over terrible events that cannot be reversed. Rather, the film should stand as an acknowledgement of the other side of a historic story about the creation of the state of Israel that has too long been ignored or denied: the story of its victims.”
Farha is a story from the perspective of only one side of that event long ago in 1948. Nevertheless, the story is worth watching and absorbing. It is part of a much longer narrative that those who are in positions of power should take seriously. Farha is not to be dismissed lightly by anyone with a memory and a conscience.
Furthermore, Farha should especially be seen in the context of Israel’s recent elections. These have put in place a government with the most far right and extremist politicians in Israel’s history. As their payoff for supporting Benjamin Netanyahu, Jewish supremacists of the Religious Zionism party will soon be in charge of Palestinian affairs. We can only await with trepidation the results of their appointments.
–Netflix faces backlash, the exodus of subscribers, over ‘antisemitic’ film Farha: ‘Stop this disgrace’, Business, 12/01/2022
–Farha, the debut film of Jordanian film-maker, depicts Zionist atrocities against Palestinians during Nakba conflict, Guardian, 12/1/2022
–Netflix’s Farha: Palestinians bemused by Israeli anger over Nakba film, Middle East Eye, 12/01/2022
–Netflix Releases Nakba Film ‘Farha’ Despite Protests From Israeli Officials, Mille, 12/02/2022
–Farha — A Palestinian Film About The Nakba, Times of Israel, 12/3/2022
–Netflix’s ‘Farha’ and the Palestinian Right to Process Pain through Art, The Intercept, 12/3/2022
John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo; John served with the United Nations in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID and the World Bank in 65 countries.
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