Filmmaker: Farheen Umar
Farah is a young girl from Beit Lahia, a city located in the Gaza Strip, close to the Israeli border and in the midst of much of the turmoil that occurs in the area.
Farah’s mother, grandfather, aunt and three uncles were all killed in the same attack that injured Farah, causing her severe third-degree burns on parts of her body.
To see a part of you leave is very disheartening, especially to know the challenges that she will face in the future.
The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund was able to help Farah, securing her safe passage from Gaza and sponsoring her travel and treatment in San Diego, California. With her grandmother accompanying her, Farah is hosted by different Arab-American families in the city as part of the arrangement.
While staying with her first host family, Farah is being examined by a plastic surgeon – a difficult process for a child surrounded by unfamiliar faces.
A month later she is taken in by a new family – the Jubrans.
Former nurse Amal Jubran is a Palestinian Christian, born in Haifa. Throughout her nine-month ordeal, the whole Jubran family becomes very attached to Farah as she makes great strides in both her recovery and development as a child.
When she returns to her family in Gaza, Amal finds it hard to move on; but almost three years later, she seizes the opportunity to visit Farah – only to have her worst fears realised.
Farah has readjusted to life in Gaza with her new stepmother and extended family and doesn’t appear to remember Amal or her time in California at all. Amal is also not satisfied with the follow-up care or general lifestyle Farah is being afforded back in her hometown.
Are Amal’s expectations too high? And is contentment a subjective emotion?
By Farheen Umar
As a filmmaker, I am always on the lookout for compelling stories. So when I heard that Farah, a three year-old girl who had suffered burn injuries during an attack on her home in Gaza was coming to the US for treatment, I knew hers was a story I wanted to tell.
I learned that she would live with a host family for a year while undergoing treatment in San Diego, California. How, I wondered, would such a young child adjust to living with strangers in an unfamiliar environment during such a tumultuous time? And what would be the lasting effects on the child and her hosts?
I decided to follow Farah with my camera from the time she arrived in San Diego. I didn’t know what to expect or how her story might unfold. But I kept recording her and her Arab-American host family, the Jubrans, for the following nine months – filming Farah during three painful surgeries and the family as they grew increasingly attached to her.
Nothing about making the film was easy. With no financial backing, I had to do fundraisers to gather the money to cover the initial costs of filming. Funding a film about a Palestinian child is not easy in the US, where broadcasters are often influenced by lobbies that seek to silence the Palestinian voice.
It was also difficult on a personal level to witness a child endure so much suffering. Her story brought me to tears almost daily and there were times when I fell into depression.
But, equally, watching Farah get better in body and spirit was inspiring.
In 2013, almost three years after Farah returned to Gaza, myself and Farah’s host mother, Amal Jubran, were given the opportunity to visit her there. It was difficult to decide to leave my own children to film in a place where violent conflict between Israel and Palestinians can erupt at any time. But peace convoy Miles of Smiles encouraged me to go. I would like, in particular, to thank Abraham Ahmed, who facilitated our trip and was a source of great support.
This has been a very challenging project, both personally and professionally. It took me five years to complete the film, but I believe it has the potential to truly make an impact – to inspire others to understand, as the Jubran family does, that we can all make life better for others and that we all have a responsibility to try to end conflict, whether within families, communities or countries.
It takes a heavy emotional toll to care for a child. For Amal Jubran healing Farah and then watching her return to her home was very difficult, knowing that she has no control over the dangerous and challenging circumstances she will encounter there. But the Jubrans embraced their role in Farah’s life with a selflessness that has been an honour to observe.
I hope this story inspires other women, whose roles are so often underestimated, to become change makers capable of ending and preventing conflict.
I would like to thank my own husband and children for supporting me throughout this project, keeping me strong and positive so that I could continue to tell Farah’s story: a story that I hope will change hearts and minds of people towards the Israel Palestine conflict especially in countries like the US, which plays an important role in deciding the fate of these people.