This article contains spoilers for Netflix’s Farha.
Farha, Netflix’s controversial film depicting the events of the 1948 Nakba—the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian people—through the eyes of a 14-year-old girl, has sparked conversations on social media about censorship.
Since its release, Israeli officials have condemned Farha, claiming the film’s purpose is to “create a pretense and incite against Israeli soldiers.”
Israeli Finance Minister, Avigdor Liberman, expressed his disapproval of Netflix’s decision to release the film, calling for the censorship of Farha, including withdrawing state funding from theatres that screen the film.
There is also an organized movement online, where hundreds of bot accounts are downvoting Farha on IMDB to prevent it from making the “recommended watch list.”
In an interview with Arab News, Jordanian filmmaker, Darin Sallam, said she chose Farah as her debut feature film because she wants to tell the truth about the horrors of the Nakba. But unfortunately, this event is rarely explored in cinematic form.
Farha follows the journey of a 14-year-old Palestinian girl with big dreams during the 1948 Nakba. Every year, Palestinians around the world mark May 15 as Nakba, which commemorates the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.
Britain was granted a mandate for Palestine in 1920; as it was a dual mandate, the British were accountable for the needs of Jews and Arabs. They were responsible for facilitating economic and political conditions allowing the independent rule of both communities under British supervision. After the British mandate was removed from Palestine in 1948, the State of Israel was officially established; however, this was not favourable to Palestinians and led to the dispossession of nearly 750,000, forcing them to abandon their homes and lands.
The film opens with the titular Farha reading a novel while her friends collect water and play amongst themselves. Shortly after, young boys chase British soldiers and ask them to leave, indicating a looming war. Farha joins the boys in chasing away the soldiers, positions her hands in the shape of a gun, and shoots at them.
It becomes clear early in the movie that Farha is different from her peers; girls her age gush about boys and getting married, but she has bigger dreams. Farha wants to attend school in the city, but her father is hesitant about it and wants her to get married instead.
Farha’s conviction eventually pays off when her father agrees to send her to the city school. She shares the good news with her cousin and tells her how she wants to become a teacher and open an only-girls' school.
However, this happiness is short-lived as the village gets attacked by Israeli soldiers.
Farha and her cousin run toward the village after hearing the noise of guns and bombs and witness villagers running to save their lives.
The excruciating pain in this scene of people getting forced out of their ancestral homes and land is not an easy watch.
Trying his best to protect her, Farha’s dad locks her in the kitchen and instructs her to stay there until he returns. The thought of being alone in a small, dark room for an indefinite time scares and frustrates her while she waits for her Abbu.
Even though Farha is struggling, her courage is still unharmed and, in fact, contagious.
As a few days pass, Farha hears a family entering her house. When she looks through the peephole, she notices a pregnant lady accompanied by her husband and two daughters. While the girls help their mother walk safely, their innocent faces scream the confusion and terror of the ongoing events.
Farha becomes ecstatic when the baby boy is born. Seeing the family gives her hope that she can finally get out and, so, calls for the man. But, as he tries to open the door, soldiers approach the house.
The man instructs his wife and kids to hide on the terrace. At the same time, he starts walking out of the house to distract the soldiers. Sadly, they find them and shoot the entire Palestinian family as Farha watches in horror from her hiding spot. The commander also orders the soldier to kill the newborn baby and mentions that he should not waste a bullet on him.
Farah is in deep shock seeing all of this and consumed with guilt as she cannot do anything. She cannot believe what her eyes have witnessed.
It is gut-wrenching to see this as an audience, and it seems impossible to imagine oneself in Farha’s place.
Sallam did an excellent job of portraying an underrepresented historical event while also shining a light on the experiences of a teen girl. For example, when Farha gets her first period, Taher brilliantly portrays what every girl goes through—confusion, pain, and anger.
Sallam mentions in her interview that she was not hesitant about this content as it is natural and would happen to anyone in Farha’s situation.
After watching Farha, I sat silently for a long time—amazed by the work of art and disturbed by the Nakba's events.
Unfortunately, I’m not surprised by the widespread opposition that Farha has received— especially considering the refugee crisis that the 1948 Nakba sparked has still not been resolved.
Palestinian people are still fighting for their “Right to Return” to their homeland and the houses they had to abandon. Moreover, the ongoing negotiations between Palestinian refugee leaders and Israeli officials fail to find common ground.
This conflict does not paint a favourable picture for Israel, and when movies like Farha get the limelight, they are bound to be bothered and will naturally try their best to protect their image.
Nevertheless, this is unfair to artists like Sallam, who want to use their art and movies to release and process their pain. For decades, cinema has depicted the history and suffering of past generations' It is everyone’s right to use art as a form of expression and pass ancestral stories to future generations.
In an interview with Arab News, Sallam shares how her mother told a story about a young Palestinian girl, Radieh, who witnessed Nakba while locked in a cellar. Radieh managed to reach Syria and shared her story with a young girl, and when that girl grew up, she shared the story with her daughter; that young girl was Sallam’s mother.
Sallam decided to share Radieh’s story as Farah with the world when she became a filmmaker to educate people like me on what happened in Palestine. Although the movie only focuses on Farha’s view of the catastrophe through the crack in the door and peephole in the wall, it still conveys the agony felt by every Palestinian during Nakba.
When Radieh’s story in the form of Farha reaches displaced Palestinians, it will not reduce their sufferings, but it will undoubtedly generate a sense of relief that the world will now know what they went through.
Of course, people have always used art to express and share their suffering. I’m reminded of what Diljit Dosanjh said in this recent interview about his latest film Jogi, which was set during the 1984 Sikh Genocide, “making movies can nowhere reduce the pain of what happened, but it can suddenly create awareness.”
It is paramount to keep stories like Farha alive for generations to come so that future Palestinians can access their history through art and begin to make sense of their intergenerational trauma and collective history.
If you haven’t already, please watch Farha on Netflix. It is a must-watch and will be representing Jordan in the 2023 Oscars.
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