The Yarmouk district of Damascus in Syria played home to the biggest Palestinian refugee camp in the world between 1957 and 2018. Abdallah Al-Khatib’s powerful, moving and often gently poetic film charts the years between 2011 and 2015 when locals were gradually deprived of food, medicine and electricity and Yarmouk essentially became cut off from the rest of the world…a world that seemed to have no interest In them.
When the Syrian revolution broke out, the regime of Bashar Al-Asad perceived Yarmouk as a refuge for rebels and resistance, and set up siege from 2013 onwards. As hunger, bombing and lack of aid took its toll on the besieged inhabitants they also did their best to keep on with their lives.
The film documents the fear and the brief moments of joy; the music and the bombardments, and the sense of love and compassion that helped keep the besieged as strong and resilient as possible against the backdrop of the worst of conditions.
Yarmouk-born filmmaker Abdallah Al-Khatib composes a love song to a place that resists the atrocities of war with dignity. Little Palestine: Diary of a Siege is a filmed diary that follows the fate of civilians during the brutal siege imposed by the Syrian regime, and while it brims with anger and resentment (all very understandable) it is also delicate and tender at times, allowing moment of beauty to peek out from in amidst the rumble and destruction.
Al-Khatib has a strong link with the youngsters who smiling play in amidst the ruins. As he sits and chats with one group, a little girl simply says: “We want to find a solution to get our childhood back.” With his mother Umm Mahmoud, who acts as a doctor in the community, he interviews an elderly woman who left Palestine in1948 aged 18 and has lived in the city ever since and has no intention of leaving.
Sometimes he just leaves the camera on roadside the record what is happening around him – catching images of a young woman with bright red boots and coat in amidst the drab surroundings, or filming a young man with one leg cycling through the debris – while at other times he films protests (some angry, some mournful) or shoots footage of residents queuing for food aid. As the seasons pass it becomes harder and harder for the besieged – at one stage a large group of men try to force their way out, only to be driven back by gunfire.
In a delightful sequence towards the end of the film he comes across young Tasnin who is carefully cutting stalks of verbena from the ground in amidst the ruined buildings. She know exactly what she is doing, keeping away from poisonous roots, and chats to him calmly about her life, how she dreams of food, all as bombs start to fall a short distance away. This is now the world she has got used to.
The end credits note that 181 residents Yarmouk starved to death during the siege (all are listed later in the credits) and that in 2015 Islamic State took control of the camp. Some 80% of which was destroyed by Russian planes and Syrian army in 2018 as they drove Islamic State out. Abdallah Al-Khatib and his mother are now living in Germany…but – as the end credits say – she would still like to move back to her community.
Dir/screenplay Abdallah Al-Khatib
Production Bidayyat for Audiovisual Arts, Films de Force Majeure, Doha Film Institute
International sales Lightbox
Editor Quataiba Barhamji
(First printed in Doc Business Europe)