Today around 300,000 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon, yet only 2% of them have work permits. Lebanese law bans Palestinians from working in most professions; those that do work earn less than the minimum wage. They are not allowed to own property and have restricted access to the legal and health system.
Ein el-Helweh, a camp in southern Lebanon that houses some of these refugees, was built in 1948 to provide temporary shelter to Palestinians after the Nakba. 65 years later it has evolved to provide makeshift houses for its residents. It is the largest in Lebanon and currently home to 70,000 refugees, all who live within 1 square kilometre of space.
It is in this camp that London based Palestinian film director Mahdi Fleifel’s parents grew up. Fleifel himself was raised in Denmark and Dubai, though spent his summer holidays there. It is here that the central theme of this film lies; a perspective on the issue of exile from multiple generations of refugees, from those who stayed in the camp, those who left, and those who have never seen their homeland.
On his trips to Ein el-Helweh, Fleifal recorded life and experiences there, a passion he inherited from his father. These recordings, weaved together with his father’s footage from the 80s and 90s, form the base of A World Not Ours a feature-length documentary narrated by him. A world not ours premiered in Toronto, won the peace film award at the Berlin International Film Festival, the best documentary prize at Abu Dhabi’s and was screened last Thursday at the Rich Mix cinema in London as part of a DocHouse Thursdays event.
An interesting example of the different directions Palestinian lives have taken is charted through the friendship of Fleifal and Abu Iyad. Whilst Fleifal spends summer in the camp, and then goes home, his friend and central character Abu Iyad (who has been nicknamed after the deputy chief and head of intelligence from the PLO who was assassinated in Tunis) cannot leave. A long-term member of Fatah, he is disillusioned and disappointed with the promise of return, angry with the Palestinian leadership.
“I wish Israel would just massacre us all,” he says. “We destroyed ourselves. I don’t want to return to Palestine.”
Fleifal’s uncle, Said, now spends much of his time with his pet birds. During an Israeli invasion his brother Jamal put explosives around the camp, then was shot in the neck by a sniper after the Lebanese army surrounded the camp. He died 10 years later when he was 23.
Yet although the film offers a personal perspective on life in the camp through the lives of Said and Abu Iyad for example, there are no female characters that are explored in depth. Still, it is a personal approach to the issue of refugees and offers an interesting insight into the different courses their lives have taken.