Big Issues

Why So Many Israelis Are Trying To Get ‘Farha’ Removed From Netflix

“I’m not afraid to tell the truth. We need to do this because films live and we die."

Want more Junkee in your life? Sign up to our newsletter, and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook so you always know where to find us.

Earlier this month, Jordanian-Palestinian film, Farha, was released on Netflix. Since then, some Israelis have been trying to get it taken down. 

Directed and written by Jordanian-Syrian filmmaker, Darin J. Sallam, Farha follows the titular 14-year-old protagonist as she experiences the Nakba in 1948. 

What Is The Nakba And Why Israel Does Not Want It Shown

The Nakba, or ‘catastrophe’, is the name given by Palestinians to the 1948 series of events when Israeli forces invaded Palestine, permanently displacing and murdering hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in their homes. 

The displacement and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and their land by Israel continues to this day, but the Nakba marked the beginning of Israel’s current occupation of Palestine. Due to the relentless silencing of Palestinians and blacklisting of Palestinian films and television, portrayals of the Nakba are rare.

Israel’s leaders have consistently denied the Nakba happened the way Palestinains have told it, and this colonial denial extends to film and television. For the last week, Farha has been subjected to a smear campaign by Israelis, including their culture minister who claims the film is “libel and lies”.

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

Farha is based on the true story of a Palestinian refugee who was a close friend of Darin J. Sallam’s mother. The filmmaker told Deadline

“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.”

How Farha Portrays The Nakba 

In Farha, Sallam directs a coming of age story that descends into a claustrophobic horror. The film’s opening scenes reimagine a Palestinian village prior to occupation: a lush and thriving place showing a group of girls sing under a golden sun as they wash their Thobes (traditional Palestinian robes). 

Played by Jordanian actor Karam Taher Farha sits reading while her classmates dance and sing. Farha wants to go to a city school to further her education, but her father refuses. Rumours of Zionist invasion and fears for Farha’s safety ultimately keep him from sending her away.

The film’s tragic irony is quickly laid bare. Farha’s father finally gives permission for Farha to go to school the evening before their village is brutally invaded by Zionist forces. Troops made up of British and Israeli soldiers storm the grounds.

In the chaos of the bloodthirsty displacement, Farha’s father begs her to leave with her cousin and best friend, but Farha refuses to leave her father behind as families flee and are killed around them. 

Sallam draws out these moments without music over the raw soundscape of bullets, explosions and cries — sounds which are punctuated by an unseen voice: a Zionist soldier commanding Palestinians to leave their homes or be dragged from them. 

Like Farha, the audience never sees the full extent of the invasion, but this provides no relief. After Farha’s father locks her in their cellar to keep her safe, Farha and the audience still hear the Nakba. The ceaseless nightmare lies just beyond the thin walls.

Sound is integral to horror. We can only imagine what we cannot see and our brains are evolutionarily wired to imagine the worst to protect us from predators. It’s why movie monsters always sound scarier than they actually look, why a bark is often worse than a bite. 

But Farha is not a film about the horrors of supernatural ghosts, monsters or demons — it’s about the horror of living through ethnic cleansing and colonial violence and surviving. 

Taher’s solitary performance is a powerful testament to what it is to be forced into a survival that nevertheless robs her of everything but her life. The disgust she must limit to her face as she stays silent in the dark to avoid detection. Her pained fidgeting as she fights the need to wee in her closed space. Her muffled singing as she tries to calm herself. Taher’s stunning performance shares all the rawness of a teenage girl thrown into hiding. 

Through cracks in the cellar door and a hole that serves as her only window, Farha witnesses fragments of the Israeli soldiers’ violence in the courtyard of her home. Even when she turns away, there is no reprieve. Farha can still hear her kin’s screams, the soldiers’ laughter and a newborn’s solitary sobbing. 

Farha’s fate is one of entrapment. She’s stuck in a violent purgatory, in which her horrific memories become the only evidence that her home was ever her’s. The final shot of the film sees Farha walk away from her home, toward the sunset and after days stuck in the dark. At the film’s end, Sallam throws the horror of Farha’s new reality into the light of day both physically and figuratively.

Locked in a dark basement as her home and culture is inescapably destroyed, Farha’s experiences are both a literal and metaphorical portrayal of the Nakba trauma. Like the many Palestians displaced by Israeli forces, Farha may have survived to see the sun again, but she can never go home. 

The Israeli Smear Campaign Against Farha

Currently, many Israelis and Zionists are campaigning Netflix to remove the film, as well as attempting to smear the film in reviews and online ratings.

According to Middle Eastern Eye, the film’s ratings went from 7.2 to 5.8 in a matter of hours on the day of its release, and hundreds of spam accounts left negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB and Letterboxd. Journalist Ahmed Eldin broke news of the smear campaign on Instagram, writing:

“There is now a coordinated campaign on @imdb and online to discredit the film — with hundreds of people voting it down giving it 0/10,” the award-winning journalist said. “I’ve spoken to @darin.sallam who tells me she’s receiving hateful messages, bullying on social media and on page.”

Eldin, along with other Palestinian influencers like TikTok’s iamsbeih encouraged audiences to watch the film and leave a positive review. Yet this bullying, harassment and condemnation of the film and its creators didn’t just come from Israelis online, but from some of their highest officials. 

“It’s crazy that Netflix decided to stream a movie whose whole purpose is to create a false pretence and incite against Israeli soldiers,” said Israel’s outgoing finance minister, Avigdor Lieberman, in a statement

Yoseph Haddad, a staunch defender of Israel and ex-special forces for the IDF, claimed the story was not only a lie — but appropriated the story of Anne Frank. 

“What’s even more crazy is that they took the character of a Palestinian girl and built a plot around her and present her as a version of Anne Frank when the IDF soldiers are the Nazis,” Haddad said

In response, the BDS Palestinian solidarity branch of the Democratic Socialist party in the US provided tweet after tweet proving Haddad’s claim wildly false, concluding:

“It’s not surprise Zionists don’t like [Farha] — it reveals the true, non-unique nature of their settler colonial project and gives voice to their victims.” They continued, “It’s the nature of colonisers to try to dictate the history of those they colonise”.

As for Sallam, the film’s director, she was fully expecting Israel’s backlash. She told Arab News in an interview last year that the film struggled to find financiers, but that didn’t deter her or her team. 

“I’m not afraid to tell the truth. We need to do this because films live and we die,” says Sallam. “This is why I decided to make this film.”  

Darin J. Sallam and producers Deema Azar and Ayeh Jadaneh released a statement last week, condemning the abuse and harrassment they had received and the Israeli-led smear campaign against Farha

“These attempts to silence our voices as Semite/Arabs and as women filmmakers to dehumanise us and prevent us from telling our stories, our narrative and our truth are against any freedom of speech,” the statement read. 

“All the campaigning against Farha will not deter us from our goal which is to share the film and the story it tells with audiences worldwide. The film exists, we exist, and we will not be silenced.”

Farha is available to stream on Netflix. And, it’s always a good day to remember that: From the river to sea, Palestine will be free.

Merryana Salem (they/them) is a proud Wonnarua and Lebanese–Australian writer, critic, teacher and podcaster on most social media as @akajustmerry.