Standing in the shadow of a lost home

Heba El-Sherif
5 Min Read

In film, portraying suffering in its own element is a powerful tool. Taking that same suffering to the backseat, however, often has a much stronger effect on the viewer.

In Palestine, where civilians are stripped of their basic rights and families have grown numb to losing their loved ones, daily and past plights continue to be a rich soil for young moviemakers. And since they are set on their homeland from beginning to end, they present a reality viewers are rarely exposed to through conventional media outlets.

Omar Shargawi’s “My Father from Haifa is an intimate trip down memory lane, a long conversation between father and son about a home that has been stolen; its memory has been forcefully erased. As they make their trip back to their home after the recent Gaza war, aches are relived but hope continues to prevail in a gloomy but heartfelt depiction of the life of a man whose soul has been stripped.

The film tells the story of Shargawi’s father who found refuge in Damascus, Syria after Israel was created on Palestinian land. Like many Palestinians at the time, he later crossed the sea into Europe, settling in the cold Danish capital, Copenhagen, where the first scene is shot. From then on, the viewer travels from Copenhagen to Damascus to Tel Aviv and then ends in Haifa.

In Copenhagen, Shargawi’s father utilizes the living room as his set, lots of food and an endless supply of cigarettes as his props. The recurring environment he creates encompasses many familial elements in the Arab world, as if creating a Palestine of their own.

Another recurring theme is that of a car ride conversation. In every city they visit, the Shargawis are caught in a heated conversation, on their way to or away from home. The constant movement becomes emblematic of the state of restlessness that has gripped them both.

During the first part of the movie, the father recalls his days in Haifa and Damascus, pondering the fate of Palestinians and their neighboring enemy. He releases a couple of puffs and sits back as he refers to Palestinians as “hash dealers and the Israelis as “professional idiots.

Shargawi’s father often speaks to his son of his hostility and short temper, a characteristic he attributes to his ruthless past. He tells him that if he had experienced what he had gone through, he would have been just as hostile.

But the father’s comments against the Israelis are not that of blatant hostility; in a way, his tone is that of acceptance of the enemy. At a Tel Aviv airport checkpoint, he told an official that although he has a Danish passport he would have loved to know how to speak Hebrew.

Shargawi’s father hasn’t gone home since he and his family were displaced from their hometown. Just when he felt ready to take that trip, the Israeli onslaught on Gaza struck in December 2008. Alone in his living room, he watches the news on TV as he calls Omar and says: “I can’t.

After much hesitation involving canceling and rebooking plane tickets, he regains his strength and decides to head to Damascus to visit his bother and his family, who remained there after 1948, later flying into Israel.

The mere notion of him setting foot on Israeli soil was tormenting enough. He steps into his old house, now completely run-down after an Israeli raid, looks around and sighs to his son: “They kick us out, steal our homes and erase our memories.

The image of the two Shargawis standing amid the rubble of what was once their home is one of the movie’s most powerful scenes.

It’s the dialogue between Shargawi and his son that is most captivating; some of it about Palestine, some of it about life and much of it about how similar they are.

At a Jewish shrine, the father wrote a question to God, one he believed he would answer in 48 hours. He asked: “Will God ever bring peace to the land of peace that never saw peace? But as the movie ends, God remains silent.

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