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Return to Haifa - Eye On Palestine Return to Haifa

Return to Haifa

A film by Kassem Hawal

Fiction | 92′ | 1982

The film, funded entirely with Palestinian money (collected by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine), is often cited as “the first Palestinian fiction film”, despite the fact that the director is not actually Palestinian. In the north of Lebanon, the Palestinians living in the refugee camps provided “the capital, aid and enthusiasm” for the film project. Three months before beginning the filming in the Tripoli region, the production team launched a wide awareness campaign in the camps of Nahr el Bared and Al Bedawi. Meetings were held in squares, workplaces, and even in the mosques after Friday prayers. For the exodus scene alone, which opens the film, they had 3,000 to 4,000 extras of all ages, hundreds of items of period dress (Palestinians from the camps brought out their old clothes), old cars, and dozens of fishing boats (Lebanese fishermen lent their boats for the day). On the morning of 23 August 1981, all this was ready, and “as if by a miracle the film set on the port of Tripoli came to resemble that of Haifa in 1948”. Annemarie Jacir, Electronic Intifada 27/2/2007

Kasem Hawal’s adaptation of the Ghassan Kanafani novella Return to Haifa is a rarely seen gem. Kanafani’s seminal allegorical story tells of Safia and Saeed, who are forced by gunfire and artillery to leave their 5 month old son Khaldoun in the city of Haifa when they are expelled in April 1948. Twenty years on, with the 1967 war and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the couple are able to travel to Haifa. They discover that Khaldoun, now Dov, was adopted by Jewish immigrants arriving in 1948, and – now 20 – has recently enlisted in the Israeli army. The story, and the film – which remains true to Kanafani’s style and purpose – proceeds to pursue impossible questions – who is the real mother? Who is the real father? What is a homeland, and whose is it? And, finally, what is the way to Return to Haifa.

Kassem Hawal is ….