Little Palestine, diary of a siege — documentary that reveals ignominy

Amman Film Festival

Little Palestine
(Photos: Amman International Film Festival and IMDB)
Yarmouk, in the suburbs of Damascus, is a huge Palestinian refugee camp created in 1957. In 2013 during the midst of the Syrian civil war, the government of Bashar Al-Assad considers Yarmouk a refuge for rebels and decides to besiege it in 2013. اضافة اعلان

Isolated from the world, the population’s supplies of food, medicine and even electricity are gradually diminished. A member of this trapped community, Abdallah Al-Khatib, films the daily life of this siege, without knowing just how long it will last.

The film competes in the Arab Feature-Length Documentary category at the third edition of the Amman International Film Festival.

Khatib’s approach to Little Palestine, diary of a siege draws parallels to that of Abbas Fahdel’s “Homeland: Iraq Year Zero”. Both document a recent conflict in the Middle East from the point of view of the indigenous population, in particular the family and relatives of the directors.

However, Khatib’s involvement in his subject matter is unmatched as he films his surroundings while trapped by the Syrian army with no hope of escape.

It is this that makes Little Palestine so intense and shocking; for Khatib, using a camera is a way to kill time by documenting life in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk. Never did he imagine that this situation would drag on for two years and take on such unbearable proportions.

The tone of the film is relatively light at the beginning, and in time, despite the persistent hope seen in the poetry and the smiles of the children, or the piano installed between the ruins, it grows darker and more alarmist.

At another time and in another context, the situation documented by Little Palestine would undoubtedly bear resemblance to the ghettos which housed much of the Jewish population under Nazi Germany, with people overwhelmed by the events taking place around them, despite not always being aware of their gravity.

The shortages caused by this ignoble siege force the inhabitants to eat whatever they can find, be it cacti, grass, or the smallest seed in the middle of the rubble.

Khatib’s documentary becomes an extraordinary war film because, with hardly any apparent military violence in the shot (even if the off-camera regularly reminds us of this part of reality with the sound of weapons and explosions), he focuses, above all, on fights of another type: the constant struggle for dignity and against impending famine. In terms of dignity, although some details show disagreements and inevitable tensions, Khatib reveals a people generally united despite the catastrophe.

At the end, when a man in tears sings “My Sweet Palestine”, the scene is all the more moving because we saw this man earlier in the film full of madness and combativeness.

This umpteenth shocking sequence is like the film: despair and resignation coexist with a pacifist utopia relayed by lyrics imagining a Palestine where everyone would live in peace. Is dignity, in the end, stronger than hatred? The audience leaves the film in a state of amazement, not really knowing what to think of a contemporary world where such conditions can persist and no one seems able or willing to act.

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