The heart wrenching story of a mother's loss is laid bare in "Today They Took My Son". Released online yesterday to coincide with International Human Rights Day, Farah Nabulsi's short film beams the pain and suffering of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank into the home of every viewer.
The story begins with Khalid, "the hero", riding his bike through the narrow streets of a nameless town, his father's voice narrating his adventure from somewhere in the background. Reminiscent of many a home video the world over, any sense of familiarity is quickly jolted away as the film cuts to documentary footage of a house demolition, of men in army uniforms surrounding an unknown figure, of the agony of an old, bearded man as he sits among the rubble of his home.
This juxtaposition of home video-style footage, of birthday cakes and makeshift football matches, and of raw, distressing scenes of Khalid's arrest is an ongoing theme throughout the film. Narrated by his mother, her eyes dark and harrowed, she asks how "they who have taken everything else" could take her son away. "The body refuses to hear what it has always feared," she says, as she runs in vain through the streets to the spot where Khalid was taken.
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Yet these scenes are simultaneously all too recognisable. In fact, "Today They Took My Son" narrates a situation that has become daily reality for many Palestinians living in the West Bank, as the film points out, "every 12 hours, a Palestinian child is detained, interrogated, prosecuted and/or imprisoned", according to a 2013 UNICEF report. Others have confirmed such figures, with Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem estimating that as of August 2017 "331 Palestinian minors were held in Israeli prisons".
The words of Khalid's mother: "I know the earth will keep spinning around my pain, ignorant of all that has now changed in my world", strike at the heart of the matter, that such accounts of suffering so often fall on deaf ears among the international community. For Farah Nabulsi, herself a Palestinian living in diaspora in London, "Today They Took My Son" is a vehicle for allowing others to see and feel what Palestinians in the Occupied Territories experience on a regular basis.
Nabulsi explains that although she "always thought she understood the injustices suffered by her people", it wasn't until she visited the territories and witnessed the treatment of children that she began to ask "what if that was my child?" As a mother of five, Nabulsi told the Institute for Middle East Understanding in an interview back in May that
There is nothing more excruciating in this life than not being able to help your child.
"These are people whose land was taken, whose homes were taken, whose dignity was taken, whose freedom has been taken, but to also have your children taken?"
What we are seeing is a systematised process of breaking a society through their children.
In the belief that "the arts play a crucial role in changing the world", Nabulsi hopes that, by documenting the suffering of Palestinians through accessible art forms, awareness and empathy can be brought about. By "giving voice to the silenced", what the late Edward Said once termed "permission to narrate", Nabulsi seeks to "rehumanise" the Palestinian situation and provide a counter narrative to that espoused by the powerful lobbyists and international players who seek to deny the Palestinian situation.
"Today They Took My Son" challenges any viewer, irrespective of their geography, family situation or political affiliation, to watch a mother's heartbreak and not be moved. Her final line "When will he come back? Will he come back? What shall we tell him of the world when he does?" asks us all to consider our silence.