Photo courtesy of Netflix

‘Farha’: An Unfiltered Exposé of the Occupation Takes the Global Stage

The recent release of the Netflix film Farha highlights the long-suppressed Palestinian narrative and reminds us of the importance of listening to Palestinian voices on campus.

Farha (2021), directed by Jordanian Darin J. Sallam, tells the true story of a 14-year-old Palestinian girl who lives through the events of what was referred to as “the Nakba,” the Catastrophe, in the years leading up to May 15, 1948. During these years, over 700,000 Palestinians were forcefully expelled from their homes by the Zionist occupation. The Nakba remains a form of intergenerational trauma that follows Palestinians of all ages and backgrounds everywhere – in the diaspora, historic Palestine, the West Bank, and Gaza.
Farha premiered at the Toronto Film Festival on Sept. 14, 2021 and was released on Netflix on Dec. 1, 2022. Since its premiere, Farha has been awarded the Best Feature Film at the Malmö Arab Film Festival in 2022 and is Jordan’s Oscar entry this year.
Named after a 14-year-old Palestinian girl, Farha incorporates a beautiful portrayal of life in Palestine before the Nakba, with a focus on the traditions in Palestinian villages. From the bountiful fig harvests to the traditional version of a bachelorette party with Palestinian folkloric songs, dances, and Henna – a plant-based dye painted on the body that symbolizes good health and prosperity – the film spotlights the richness of Palestinian culture. The theme of cultural abundance is also naturally situated within the aspirations of Farha, a teenage girl living in a male-dominated educational scene, for life beyond the village and a road to education.
At the turning point of the story, such personal and cultural elements are challenged by a political lust for a land at the expense of the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of natives of the land, which scars the personal and intimate life of Farha. The consequences of the occupation are shown as political and personal. By focusing on the life of Farha, the film conveys a very rare perspective on the private life of a 14-year-old. The impact of senseless killings and forced expulsions is shown from a private lens as we watch Farha being grounded for days without human contact, struggling to survive without water or proper sanitary conditions until she witnesses the killing of her own people in cold blood.
This week, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the Palestinian student interest group on campus, screened the film. Laila Al-Eisawi, Class of 2023, who attended the screening commented, “In addition to the violence and loss of life, the brutally painful time waiting away from family, wondering if not only you but also your loved ones, will return home is tragic.”
After the screening of the film, many of us were crying with broken hearts. As Fedi Ben Othman, Class of 2026, expressed, “At the end of Farha, I was completely silent and could not say a word for a good moment as I was thinking and reflecting on everything in life and what was going on in the world.”
Farha is not a depiction of a non-contextualized, impersonal historical phenomenon that exists in the world. Instead, it portrays a very private, real-life experience that contributes to the Palestinian collective memory. A sense of shared Palestinian identity is sustained by the act of remembering the violence committed against Palestinians and is maintained by the retelling of stories among Palestinians. “As soon as the movie started, I couldn't shake the image of a 15-year-old version of my grandma, who is largely the biggest connection to the Palestinian part of my identity, in Farha's shoes from my head… because it was a reminder of the kind of life she lived and the kind of life many others in her situation have,” commented Baraa Al Jorf, Class of 2023.
No amount of words can express the emotions and the struggle that the film conveys. “[After all], it presents a raw, unfiltered version of the reality of the events of 1948,” Al-Eisawi said.
As a Palestinian, I felt that the film was very personal. At the end of the film, I realized how my grandmother or any of her acquaintances could have experienced or seen the same non-human treatment that those in the memory of Radiyyeh, the real-life human represented by Farha, experienced. I also began questioning my present. The occupation of Palestine and the forced expulsion are at the center of why I introduce myself as a Palestinian living somewhere else around the world. It is why I did not grow up in or visit the place that I feel the most belonging to and longing for. The Nakba never ended in the memories and lived experiences of Palestinians and has continued for almost 75 years today.
Farha is a great start for amplifying the Palestinian experience and raising it to the front stage where the truth is being shown. “I felt a happiness that was celebrating the sense of longed-for justice when viewing a Netflix movie that was finally depicting the Palestinian side of the narrative, the one that has been shunned, censored, and invalidated for way too long,” expressed Al Jorf.
Farha is a drop in the ocean of what happened during the Nakba. The Israeli occupation, in its attempts to silence Palestinians for the last 75 years, has continuously denied any and all claims of its inhumane acts and continued the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian villages and cities. Today, it is also trying to condemn the truth and silence the Palestinian voices that are depicted in the film by denying the reality of the events and intentionally lowering the rating of the film via calling for downratings and the removal of the film from Netflix for “false pretense.”
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