Abdallah Al-Khatib’s poignant documentary, which will be released on January 12 in France, looks back on one of the darkest episodes of the war in Syria: the relentless siege by pro-government forces of the Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, in the suburbs of Damascus. The film was shot inside the camp.
It’s an unlikely new film about the atrocity of the war in Syria and the repression of Bashar Assad that is making its way to theaters around the world and international festivals.
After For Sama, on the siege of Aleppo, released in 2019 and filmed by a young mother from the city, Little Palestine, diary of a siege recounts the siege of the Palestinian camp of Yarmouk (2012-2015), in the suburbs of Damascus, also through the amateur lens of a besieged inhabitant.
Camera in hand, Abdallah Al-Khatib has captured over the months the scraps of an infernal daily life, between bombs and famine. It testifies not only to deprivation, fears and suffering, but also to the courage and humor of the children and residents of the neighborhood. “Like most of the country, Yarmouk and its Palestinian inhabitants have suffered the full brunt of the regime’s repression [syrien], and Khatib’s film has an intense way of showing it ”, underlines the site Middle East Monitor.
Little Palestine is, at the same time “Expansive and intimate”, “Heartbreaking and hopeful”, “Distant and intensely moving”, add the pan-Arab site Middle East Eye :
The film’s most striking moments are also the most surreal: the director’s mother feeding a sulky little girl, who later died of hunger; a male choir singing in front of a piano in a destroyed street as gunshots echo from the building above them; an old man singing a Palestinian anthem in English before bursting into tears. ”
Although he also lived inside the camp, Abdallah Al-Khatib (now a refugee in Germany) “Did not fall into the trap of subjectivity”, considers for its part the pan-Arab site Al-Jazeera, the director seeking to avoid miserabilism and emphasizing the supremacy of life over death.
“I tried as much as possible to make the voices of everyone in the camp heard, […] and the most important thing that I wanted to show, it is the inhabitants of Yarmouk in their dignity, without seeking to arouse sympathy or pity […]. I wanted the spectators to feel in solidarity with what they are going through because of the Syrian regime ”, he says to Al-Jazeera.
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“I thought I was going to die”
After the Syrian revolution (2011) gradually turned into an armed conflict, the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad besieged the Yarmouk camp, completely isolating it from the outside world and depriving its population of food, medicine and electricity, as part of a siege strategy followed in several regions of the country to bend the rebellion.
At the end of 2012, some 140,000 refugees fled the camp in a week, as the regime carried out a bombing campaign there in an attempt to counter the advance of rebel groups.
During the following years, photos from inside the camp had toured the world and cast a harsh light on the hardships experienced by the besieged population.
“In the lexicon of man’s inhumanity towards his brother is added a new term: Yarmouk”, assassinated in 2014 Chris Gunness, the spokesperson of theUNRWA, the agency ofHIM-HER-IT for Palestinian refugees. “The regime has starved the population of the camp and banned the entry of international aid. Anyone who dared to escape through a checkpoint was arrested […] and often tortured to death ”, remember Middle East Monitor.
It is besides “Using the camera of a friend – Hassan Hassan, who tried to flee before being detained and tortured to death – that Khatib filmed footage of the camp for others overseas. possibly use in their own films”, Says the Middle East Monitor. “I thought I was going to die” during the siege, says the director to the media.
A mirror of the “Nakba”
Incarnated by this camp in Syria, the largest camp for Palestinian refugees, “little Palestine” is none other than “Prolongation of the sufferings of the great Palestine”, to which the film devotes a central place, also underlines Al-Jazeera.
The director in fact evokes the displacement of the Palestinians after the “Nakba” (the “catastrophe” in Arabic, in reference to the creation of the State of Israel and the massive exodus of Palestinians), in 1948, then their suffering at the hands of the Syrian regime, which “Explicitly accuses”.
But far from wanting revenge or perpetuating the culture of violence, Al-Khatib portrays the situation and the various characters without any violence. For the American magazine Variety, its production thus constitutes – beyond the historical facts and the twists and turns of the conflict – “a love letter to his fellow citizens and their humanity in a deeply inhuman situation ”.
Little Palestine, diary of a siege by Abdallah Al-Khatib will be released on January 12 in France, in partnership with International mail.