Understanding what is happening in Gaza today may not be too complicated. After decades of Israeli invasion, the last bastion of the Palestinian people is disappearing before our eyes.
Since October 7, 2023, Israeli forces have killed nearly 25,000 people, and approximately two million Gazans have been internally displaced. As the tragedy continues and amid an international social movement in support of Palestine demanding an immediate ceasefire, many still do not understand the context of the situation.
And when words are not enough, cinema is the best storyteller. To that end, we have compiled a non-exhaustive list of Palestinian films that you must see to understand the Palestinian story and what is really happening in Gaza.
Warning: These films are brutally honest. We recommend caution to anyone with PTSD or similar conditions.
Born in Gaza (2014)
Directed and written by Italian-Argentine filmmaker Hernán Zin, Born in Gaza is a harsh documentary that shows the situation in Gaza from the perspective of a dozen Palestinian children.
Shot shortly after the Israeli aggression in 2014 the Palestinian film, Born in Gaza, shows how, despite living amidst bombardment and ruins, the children continue to dream of a future. The documentary exposes precariousness, a childhood ravaged by violence, and a cruel yet heartwarming hope.
For those still unaware of the origins of the situation in Gaza, Farha is a good Palestinian film to watch. Many believe that this conflict is recent and accuse terrorist groups of inciting it when, in fact, it all began in 1948 with the Nakba (catastrophe, in Arabic). It is about dozens of massacres against Arabs carried out by Israel to take over the territory of more than 400 cities and founded a country in a land bathed in blood.
Farha is a historical story told in this context. It is about a Palestinian teenage girl who comes of age during the Nakba. Director and writer Darin H. Sallam was inspired by a true story and narrates a brutal and inhumane occupation, the epilogue of which we are watching in real-time.
When I Saw You (2012)
Once the Israeli state took over the Palestinian territory, millions of refugees started walking towards the borders. With the arrival of the 1960s, and while the world embraced the myth of the revolution of love, millions of families lived separately in Jordan.
The Palestinian film, When I Saw You, tells the story of 11-year-old Tarek and his mother, Ghaydaa, who are among this wave of refugees. Separated from his father, Tarek and his mother struggle to adapt until a group of people change their lives.
Salt of This Sea (2008)
Once Israel killed and expelled the Arab population, many Palestinian asylum seekers tried to reconnect with their roots and the lost land. That is the story told in Salt of This Sea, a Palestinian film that follows Soraya, a young Palestinian girl from Brooklyn, on her journey back to her homeland in the occupied West Bank.
Salt of This Sea sheds light on the reality that millions lived in what is now considered the world’s largest open-air prison.
Children of Shatila (1998)
So what about the millions of displaced Palestinians? Most fled across borders and settled in refugee camps in neighboring countries. The Palestinian film Children of Shatila depicts the reality of two street children, Farah and Issa, living in the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila in Beirut, Lebanon.
Amidst the bleak landscape, the children use their imagination and creativity to cope with the reality of growing up in a place that has survived massacres, sieges, and famine.
200 Meters (2020)
For those who decided to stay in the Israeli-controlled territories, life has not ceased to be a tragedy. 200 Meters shows the heartbreaking realities of Palestinian families separated by the Israeli separation wall in the West Bank. Israel built this barrier when the few Palestinians who decided to fight to regain their land were branded as terrorists. This Palestinian film centers on one of the symbols of Israeli racial segregation and apartheid.
In 200 Meters, director and writer Ameen Nayfeh tells the story of Mustafa, a father willing to do the impossible to cross to the Israeli side and get medical help to save his son’s life.
They Do Not Exist (1974)
Finally, for those who recognize the value of historical and documentary archives, They Do Not Exist is an essential Palestinian film. The 25-minute documentary was salvaged from the ruins of Beirut after 1982. Shot in 1974, They Do Not Exist is the first film by director Mustafa Abu Ali, who worked with the iconic Godard on his Ici et Ailleurs.
Abu Ali founded the PLO film division, and this documentary covers the real conditions that displaced Palestinians lived in refugee camps in Lebanon. The film was not released in Palestine until 2003 and has only recently become available to international audiences.