Abdallah Al-Khatib’s searing documentary was completed two years ago; its arrival now has an awful new significance. The film conveys the day-by-day, moment-by-moment experience of Palestinians living in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, known as “Little Palestine” (in fact, Al-Khatib’s birthplace), while it was under siege by the Assad government from 2013 to 2015. This resulted in 181 people dying of hunger and ended when Islamic State took control of the camp. The terror group were themselves driven out by Russian and Syrian forces in 2018, resulting in most of the camp’s destruction.
The horrifying reality of slowly dying from hunger is depicted in this film. The subjects must resort to eating cactus and weeds for sustenance. The camera captures the brave and sometimes cheerful faces of children, but one scene stands out as particularly disturbing. A little girl calmly searches for the edible herb verbena among the rough ground and weeds. Like many others in the film, she is in a traumatized yet eerily peaceful state, as if anticipating a future as an adult or elderly person, while her body and mind struggle to cope with the lack of food. She shows no fear, unlike the interviewer who is visibly shaken by nearby explosions.
A graffiti message states: “I come from a land where windows reveal a lack of food.” An elderly man requests a filmmaker for a sugared almond. A scarce food assistance organization distributes soup into people’s bags, which are the only remaining containers. A man cries out in the street: “We don’t desire Palestine, just help us escape Syria – is there anything more terrible than this starvation?” It serves as a documentation of the past, but also a devastating indication of future suffering.