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Former Arab home in Jaffa
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Problematic Jordanian Film on Netflix about 1948 War Promotes Palestinian Cause at the Expense of Israel

by Rhonda Spivak, January 8, 2023

"Farha," a Jordanian film that shows Israeli soldiers executing a Palestinian family, and leaving a baby to die, during the 1948 War of Independence which is now streaming on Netflix, is a problematic film. Directed by Darin Sallam, a Jordanian of Palestinian descent, the film is about a girl named Farha whose father, the muktar (mayor) of an unnamed village, locks her in a dark storage room/pantry to protect her during the Israel Defense Forces assault on her village. The film includes a scene in which Israeli soldiers, acting like savages, execute a Palestinian family, and leave their baby lying on the ground to die, all of which Farha witnesses through a crack in her dark room.


The film says it was “inspired by real events.”  Apparently, Sallam’s mother used to tell her the story of a teenage girl who was locked up by her father to protect her life during the 1948 war, which Palestinians refer to as the Nakba (Catastrophe). The girl survived the 1948 conflict and she made it to Syria, where she met Sallam’s mother and shared her story with the latter, who in turn shared it with Sallam.


The 15 minute scene in “Farha” where Israeli soldiers murder a Palestinian family seems designed to purposely exploit the emotions of the audience and also serves to promote very negative views about Jews. It feels very deliberate that the one soldier in the group who is wearing a kippah is the one who is ordered to murder the newborn baby (in the film, he ends up leaving the infant to die.) 


In regard to whether the story is really based on true events, Sallam has admitted to the  Hollywood Reporter  that the entire film, including the violent scene, is based on stories she has heard her entire life, “from my mother, from my grandparents, from people who lived through the Nakba,”…. “All of the stories that I heard from all people who witnessed this, my mother, my father, my grandparents, families, friends — I patched these stories together to create the world of Farha,” she says. “But all of them are real.” 

The above quote is very problematic as the movie goer will not realize that  Sallam  "patched these stories together to create" Farha and will assume that everything  in the movie actually happened  to its main character, the teenage girl Farha, including the specific violent scene she witnessed. 


Additionally, there exists this video in which the director of Farha admits she never met the girl/woman the movie is based on and that it was a "good thing" because it gave her more  space so that she could "create some fiction."  Sallam said “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 30:00 minutes into the YouTube video of the talk)


The video shows there is far more fiction in the film than most viewers, who see it as documentary like, would understand.
The film does not even name the village that the teenage girl Farha is from. If the story is true, as the movie says it is, then one would expect the village to be named in the film. However, since Sallam "patched together stories" to create Farha, I don't see how she could accurately say that the events depicted in the film are based on what occurred in a specific village. 
In her book, “Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth,” Noa Tishby has written:

“The Nakba is a branded term, used to attribute victimhood and heroism to a loss in a war that was initiated by that same losing side. If the Arabs had agreed to the U.N. Partition Plan, no war would have happened, no Nakba would have happened...”

It is worth mentioning  that Jordan nominated “Farha” as its candidate for the Academy Award for Best International Feature film. This would have been done largely for political purposes to be seen as supporting the Palestinian cause against Israel. But I would bet that behind the scenes the last thing the Hashemite Kingdom  actually would want to see happen is the creation of  a Palestinian State in the region, which could undermine Jordan’s very stability.


Certainly, one ironic aspect of the 1948 reality that the film “Farha” does not include is Jordan's treatment of Palestinians. The fact of the matter is that Jordan took the spoils of war in that after 1948  it was  Jordan which annexed Jerusalem's Old City and the West Bank  and ruled over the Palestinians there until the outbreak of the Six Day War in 1967. During 1948- 1967 when Jordan occupied the Palestinians, Jordan in general tried to dismantle Palestinian identity, and was certainly no great advocate of Palestinian nationalism.


Unfortunately, I have read many of the reviews of “Farha”, and  most writers like the film, and do not have any issues with how it portrays the actions of the Jewish soldiers depicted in it. 


Lastly, there are some reviewers who have written words to the effect that Farha, who is locked up hiding in her dark room, is the equivalent of the Arab Anne Frank,  meaning that the Israelis in the film are comparable to the Nazis. This comparison to the Holocaust is most inflammatory and wrong, but I anticipate the comparison, unfortunately, will continue to be made by many reviewers of the film. 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.