Last week I watched the movie Farha on TV. It is a Jordanian film which was shown at film festivals in 2021 but only came out on Netflix this past week. The movie has received a lot of negative press and backlash from Israel and Jews worldwide regarding its sickening and blatantly false portrayal of Israeli Haganah soldiers during the 1948 War of Independence (referred to in this film as the “Nakba”). For those who haven’t watched it, or have already cancelled their Netflix subscriptions in protest, here’s a synopsis of the film, from my Jewish/American-Israeli perspective:
The film opens with the statement: “Inspired by true events”.
Farha is an Arab teenager living in a village in Mandatory Palestine in 1948, as the nascent State of Israel has just declared independence and begun its defensive fight for survival. She has fun and gossips with friends and has dreams of moving to the “big city” where it is more acceptable for girls to attend high school. Contrary to community norms and the wishes of her father, Farha isn’t interested in getting married just yet (actually she is only 14, but apparently that doesn’t matter) and lets him know that she wants to get an education first. He reluctantly obliges, and things are starting to look bright for Farha’s future.
However, her dreams quickly fade as fighting between Israel and the attacking Arab armies ensues near her village. Loudspeakers blare announcements (presumably from the Israelis, though it isn’t specified) that all residents should leave the village immediately or they will be killed. Farha’s father, who happens to be the mayor of the town, tries to send her to safety outside the village with her best friend’s family, but she insists on staying with him. For her own protection, he locks her into their walk-in kitchen pantry/cellar (which is accessed from outside) and leaves her there, planning to come back for her when it is safe.
Farha has little light and food and nowhere to relieve herself. She is alone and scared, and tries in vain to call for help outside the large, locked door. Through the wooden slats, she witnesses an Arab woman giving birth in the courtyard outside, with the assistance of only her husband. Farha is briefly happy when she sees the baby safely born and quickly named by the father, at which point the family, which includes two more young children, are whisked away to a nearby hiding place.
But it’s too late, and the the father is discovered. And this is where the film gets “interesting”.
Along come the Israeli soldiers (including one female soldier, who strangely looks more like a modern and contemporary IDF recruit, complete with a red beret on her head) looking for hidden guns. They have a captured prisoner/informant with them, with a sack over his head, who is supposedly leading them to a stash of weapons. They happen upon the Arab man and find his family hiding nearby, and force them all outside and up against a wall. After some unrealistic banter between the soldiers and their now-hostages, the Israelis brutally murder the Arab family by firing squad, ignoring their cries to at least save their children. The soldiers momentarily spare the newborn baby, until the commanding officer among them instructs one of the soldiers to “take care of it” himself (and not “waste a bullet”), by trampling on the baby. As they walk away, disappointed that they didn’t find the weapons stash they were promised, the young soldier cannot get himself to kill the baby, and throws a cloth over the baby’s face instead before rushing off.
Sickening and unbelievable, but it’s not over.
Farha spends the night listening to the newborn baby cry outside her door, unable to help. Heart-wrenching for anyone watching, of course. She searches through sacks of grain and finds a gun and ammunition (was this the “stash” that the soldiers were looking for?) and tries shooting the lock off the door, but by the time she frees herself, the baby is dead and the village is silent. She wanders out and her deserted, ransacked village is seen from a distance as Farha walks away.
The film closes with an epilogue which states that Farha (whose real name was apparently Radiyyeh) made it all the way to Syria where she lived out her years and told her story, which was then retold and passed down to the next generation. The director of the film has stated that she herself was told this story as a child, and wanted to make this film to portray what really happened in the “Nakba”.
But is this actually a real-life story? From several interviews I have read and seen, the director Darin Sallam has basically admitted that the storyline is fiction. After a screening at the Toronto Palestine Film Festival 2022, Sallam, who was seen via Zoom in Lebanon, answered questions and explained how she came to make the film. The interview, part of which is shown on YouTube below, says it all:
“We tried to find the character…but we couldn’t, especially after the war in Syria…and the only thing that we really took from her story was that she was locked up in a room..” (taken from YouTube interview transcript)
Huh? So this was the “true event” that the film was inspired by? A girl being locked in a room? The director goes on to tell the audience that since Haganah members were known to “rape and kill Arab girls”, parents would dress up their daughters in boys’ clothing and smear their faces with black dirt to repel the brutal Israeli soldiers. Farha’s father needed to protect her “honor” and “her life” and therefore locked her in the pantry.
Wow. How she got from a storyline of a girl locked by her father in a room to Israeli soldiers murdering innocent Arabs in cold blood is beyond me. Propaganda? Definitely.
The director was also asked which village the film was supposed to take place in, and she replied “Liftah”, ostensibly referring to what Arabs call the “Liftah Massacre”. I researched the village and found that it indeed was the site of fighting between Arab militias and Israeli soldiers in December, 1947. As a warning to residents to leave the village, the mukhtar’s home was set on fire and buildings blown up. Seven people were killed, but it couldn’t by any means be called a “massacre”. And there is certainly NO record of any soldiers murdering an Arab family in cold blood, execution-style. Yet, Sallam chose this village and this “narrative” as the setting for her fictional “true” story.
However, no one in the audience seemed to care that Sallam had just admitted that the plot was made up. They proceeded to thank her over and over for having the courage to make this film and tell the Palestinian “story”. I’m not sure which part of this whole thing is most upsetting: The movie depicting horrific events that never occurred; the blatant antisemitism of the director and her admission of falsifying the plot; or the “Palestine Film Festival” held in Toronto just six weeks ago and its anti-Israel audience and presenter. And to top it off, apparently Jordan is submitting this movie as its Oscar entry for this year.
Rather than requesting that Netflix remove the film from their streaming service, they should be required to include the Question and Answer session at the end, so that audiences around the world will see this film and its director for what they really are. All lies.