Netflix faces Israeli backlash over Nakba film

A scene from 'Farha' (Talebox)

Michael Arria

Mondoweiss  /  December 6, 2022

Israeli officials have launched a smear campaign against Netflix and the film “Farha,” which tells the story of a young Palestinian girl who witnesses the horrors of the Nakba.

In recent weeks Israeli officials and supporters of Israel have launched a smear campaign against Farha, the debut film from Jordanian director Darin Sallam.

Farha, which premiered on Netflix this week, tells the story of a young Palestinian girl who witnesses Zionist military forces kill her family during the Nakba. The Nakba refers to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine that occurred in 1948. Historians estimate that about 15,000 were murdered and over 750,000 were displaced from their homes.

The film will be Jordan’s official entry to the International Feature Film category for the 95th Academy Awards to be held in March 2023.

The story is personal for Sallam, who says it’s based on a friend of her mother’s. “She was locked up by her father to protect her life,” Sallam told Deadline in a recent interview. “She survived [the conflict] and she made it to Syria, where she met a Syrian girl and shared her story with her. This Syrian girl grew up, got married and had a child, and she shared the story with her daughter—and this daughter happened to be me.”

Israeli backlash

Last month Israeli Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the treasury to revoke any government funding going to the Al-Saraya Theater in Jaffa over scheduled screenings of the film. “The decision of a cultural institution budgeted by the state to screen the movie is an unacceptable move that requires it takes all the possible steps, including denying it funds, with the goal of preventing the screening of this shocking film or other similar ones in the future,” said Lieberman. “Israel is a place to present Israeli and international works, but is certainly not the place to slander IDF soldiers and the security forces who are acting day and night to defend and protect all the citizens and residents living here.”

Israeli Culture Minister Chili Tropper also attacked the movie, saying it depicted “false plots against IDF soldiers” and compares the actions of IDF soldiers to the “behavior of the Nazis in the Holocaust.”

Pro-Israel activist, and former IDF soldier, Yoseph Haddad tweeted, “I saw the movie ‘Farha’ and I can tell you that it is much worse than you think. The IDF soldiers are presented there as inhuman with unimaginable evil, all they care about is murdering and slaughtering without mercy (which is the exact opposite of the truth).”

“This is a blood libel that will certainly increase antisemitism and incitement against Israel,” he also wrote. “If you haven’t canceled your Netflix subscription yet – do it now.”

Israeli model Nataly Dadon called on her followers drop their Netflix subscriptions in an Instagram post, claiming that the film’s “sole purpose is apparently to increase anti-Semitism against the Jewish people.”

Author and photographer Laura Ben-David tweeted a photo of her cancellation message with the streaming app and wrote, “Buh-bye Netflix! Supporting the false and anti-Israel film ‘Farha’ is unacceptable.”

Middle East Eye notes on December 1 that IMDb user ratings for the movie went down from 7.2 to 5.8 in just a few hours. “The pacing of the posts reveals it was coordinated,” Former Al Jazeera reporter Ahmed Shihab-Eldin told the website. “With each passing hour, dozens and dozens of vapid and vile reviews would appear, making wild accusations trashing the film. It was clear people had not seen the film, and only wanted to damage its reputation.”

Countering backlash

Across social media, activists and writers pushed back against the smears and the wider issue of Nakba denial. “Zionists are having a meltdown because of ‘Farha’ – a film that depicts the story of a Palestinian girl during the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine,” wrote Al-Shabaka senior policy analyst Yara Hawari, “The girl witnesses the depopulation of her village & the murder of a Palestinian family including children.”

“The Nakba, or the 1948 ethnic cleansing, is documented by the 1000s of Palestinian and even Zionist archival sources,” she continued “But most of all, it is documented by the people that it happened to. The story of Farha is the story EVERY Palestinian has inherited from the Nakba generation.”

“I watched Farha last night and highly recommend it,” wrote The Electronic Intifada’s Nora Barrows-Friedman. “The Israel fanatics don’t want you to see this bone-chilling, honest depiction of Zionist depravity and violence.”

“I’ve read Palestine Israel history books, lectures, research from every academic point of view: Israeli, Palestinian, British, US, South African, Ethiopian, Egyptian, Lebanese, even when I was a brainwashed anti Palestinian,” tweeted Beyond the Pale host Rafael Shimunov. “Nothing in the film Farha contradicts any of them.”

Actor Mark Ruffalo expressed support for the film as well. “Like America has had to address its horrific past to heal, so does every nation,” he wrote. “This dialogue and recollection is at the heart of democracy. It’s led to some of America’s finest moments. Art is our salvation. We are better for it.”

Sallam and the film’s producers also pushed back in an Instagram post. “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.”

“We are overwhelmed by the amount of support the film is receiving globally and are grateful to everyone who is doing their part to stand up against this attack and ensure the film is spoken about and seen,” it continues. “All the campaigning against Farha will not deter us from our goal which is to share our film and the story it tells with audiences worldwide.”

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss