Mondoweiss / December 8, 2022
While the Netflix film has elicited hysteria from Israel apologists, the events of ‘Farha’ are not only historically accurate, but actually mild in comparison to other Zionist atrocities in 1948.
directed by Darin J. Sallam
92 min. TaleBox 2021
A new film is screening on Netflix and elsewhere around the world – it is called Farha, and it tells the personal story of a 14-year-old Palestinian girl in Palestine, witnessing the events of the 1948 Nakba (Catastrophe) at close hand.
Based on a personal testimony of a person near to the director, Darin J. Sallam, the film has drawn the condemnation of many Israel apologists. Several of them have clearly not waited to watch the film.
The most horrific scene of the film is apparently the one that drew the main ire of the Zionists: the girl, Farha, hidden by her father in a pantry, witnesses a Palestinian family being executed. The baby, which was just born on the spot (the family was passing by, fleeing from another village) was not shot with the others, but later ordered to be killed by the officer. A soldier was ordered to kill the baby without wasting a bullet, and was about to smash its head with his boot, but could not bring himself to do it, and left it to die in the cold. At this point, Farha was as yet unable to come out of her hiding, which was barred from the outside. She had to witness both the summary execution of the family earlier, as well as the baby crying itself to its eventual death.
This scene is in no way an exaggeration of the behavior of these Zionist militias, or the fledgling Israeli army around this time — documentations of other events show even more harrowing behavior.
The film was recently released on Netflix, December 1, but it already had a world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2021, and has since been featured in many other festivals worldwide. Al-Saraya Theatre in Jaffa also screened the film, just a day ahead of the Netflix release. This pushed Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman and the outgoing Culture Minister Chili Tropper to call for revoking government funding to the theater the day before the screening. The film was quickly becoming both an internal and international PR problem for Israeli officials.
The two outraged ministers are leading the way for many Israelis in canceling their Netflix subscriptions, as the centrist Ynet reports. It also appears that the Ynet editor had not watched the film at the point (nor i24 News, which co-published the article), because they write that “the film notably includes a shocking 15-minute scene during which Israeli soldiers massacre a family of Palestinian refugees, including a one-year-old baby.”
How true are the depictions?
Historical documentations of Nakba events suggest that the scene shown in the film is absolutely possible and credible, and even mild in comparison to other accounts.
At the Dawaymeh massacre of October 1948, for example, an Israeli politician recounts the “barbarism” of “educated and cultured people.” I warn the reader of the following extremely graphic descriptions:
There was no battle and no resistance (and no Egyptians). The first conquerors killed from eighty to a hundred Arabs [including] women and children. The children were killed by smashing of their skulls with sticks. There was not a house without dead. The second wave of the [Israeli] army was a platoon that the soldier giving testimony belongs to.
In the town were left male and female Arabs, who were put into houses and were then locked in without receiving food or drink. Later explosive engineers came to blow up houses. One commander ordered an engineer to put two elderly women into the house that was to be blown up. The engineer refused and said he is willing to receive orders only from his [own] commander. So then [his] commander ordered the soldiers to put the women in and the evil deed was performed.
One soldier boasted that he raped an Arab woman and afterwards shot her. An Arab woman with a days-old infant was used for cleaning the back yard where the soldiers eat. She serviced them for a day or two, after which they shot her and the infant.
This is a far worse description than that depicted in the film, and it is one of many. The film Farha does not portray rape, nor the blowing up of houses with their inhabitants still inside . In the scene with the baby, eventually left to die, the director arguably portrays a degree of humanity in the Israeli soldier, who just can’t get himself to smash the skull of a baby with his boot, instead covering the baby’s face with a cloth handkerchief and fleeing. It is, of course, only a lesser barbarism than stepping on its head, or smashing in its skull with a stick like in Dawaymeh, but it shows a degree of nuance nonetheless. There is simply no reason to doubt such an account.
It is important to note, that this whole film is based on the personal account of a friend of the director’s mother, who carried this testimony with her for her whole life, where she fled to Syria following the ethnic cleansing of her village and country.
Is it precise? Very likely so, but the minute detail of the incident doesn’t matter so much. It is a film based on oral history, like another recent documentary about the massacre of Tantura in May 1948, which has also enraged various Israel apologists.
These testimonies tell a very real story, like when the actual perpetrators of the Tantura massacre said things like this:
“It’s not nice to say this. They put them into a barrel and shot them in the barrel. I remember the blood in the barrel.”
“I was a murderer. I didn’t take prisoners…How many? I didn’t count. I had a machine gun with 250 bullets. I can’t say how many.”
And the Nazi-associations? They come from actual perpetrators and other Israelis. Shlomo Ambar, one of the perpetrators of the Tantura massacre, compared his own unit to Nazi soldiers, where the Nazis were portrayed favorably in comparison:
“I associate [what had happened in Tantura] only with this: I went to fight against the Germans who were our worst enemy. But when we fought we obeyed the laws of the war dictated to us by international norms. They [the Germans] did not kill prisoners of war. They killed Slavs, but not British POWs, not even Jewish POWs—all those from the British army who were in German captivity survived.”
Such massacres seemed to invoke very real Nazi-comparisons in Israeli ministers, no less. Referring probably to the Dawaymeh massacre of October 29, Agriculture Minister Aharon Zisling told the Israeli parliament on November 17th that “Jews too have behaved like Nazis and my entire being has been shaken.”
But now the Israel apologists are trying to claim that all this is just outrageous, it didn’t happen, it smacks of blood libels. Yet even if it is just one person’s memory, this memory joins up with the myriad others who have the same account — from both victims and perpetrators. It paints an undeniable picture of a barbaric ethnic cleansing.
When it comes to memory and the commemoration of the Holocaust, these deniers have a whole other attitude. Israeli Historian Ilan Pappé points this out in his essay on the Tantura massacre, citing Israeli historian Omer Bartov about the use of oral history in the reconstruction of the Holocaust:
“The memory of trauma is often murky, unstable, contradictory, untrustworthy. . . What we learn [from memoirs of camp survivors] are not the fine details of camp administration, train schedules, ideological purpose and genocidal organization. These are matters far better left for historians. What we learn is the infinity of pain and suffering that makes the memory of those years into a burden whose weight stretches far beyond the ephemeral human existence, a presence that clings to the mind and inhabits the deep recesses of consciousness long after it should have been cleansed and washed away.”
The memory depicted in Farha is one that does not come out from nowhere or exists in a vacuum. It is part of an endless sea of memories from events that are now documented beyond doubt by historians, even Israeli ones, despite Israel’s incessant attempts to conceal and blur these events, even after the release of archival documentation.
Farha is a gut-wrenching drama that nonetheless shows beauty, mostly coming ahead of the events of the ethnic cleansing operation. The girl Farha has hopes beyond the conservatism of her patriarchal local society – she protests the aims of her father, the mukhtar (village leader), to marry her off, and instead implores him to allow her to study in the city, which he eventually approves. It shows the celebrations of marriage regarding another girl, and shows how Farha is affected by the sad look in the girl’s face, that it is not her will. It shows a traditional rural society faced with the urges of modernization and greater emancipation of women. It shows the amazing beauty of Palestinian rural life and architecture, as can still be seen in one of the only remaining landscapes of this kind in the ethnically cleansed village of Lifta (at the western outskirts of Jerusalem).
But all that beauty is reduced to dust with the onset of the Nakba. Atrocities and massacres like those depicted in the film, and even worse events that the film does not mention, were instrumental in that ethnic cleansing. Every Zionist should see this film. They should stop complaining about Netflix or Palestinian theaters that screen the film. They should stop crying “blood libel.” They should watch it, and they would do well to take a good look at themselves in the mirror and say “we did this.”
Yes, we, the supposedly educated, cultured, enlightened Zionists. That’s probably much harder than just watching the film, but they should at least watch it.
I gave it a 10-star rating on IMDB.
Jonathan Ofir is an Israeli musician, conductor and blogger/writer based in Denmark