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Sonia Nettnin: Film Review: Until When…

Film Review: Until When…

By Sonia Nettnin

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Three generations of a Palestinian family visit the site of their ancestral home in Bayt ‘Itab lost in Al-Nakba, the Catastrophe over a half-century ago. Throughout the years, the grandfather shared his life stories about this cherished place. (Photo courtesy of falafel daddy productions)

The documentary “Until When…” delves into the lives of several Palestinian families who live in Dheisheh Refugee Camp, near Bethlehem.

Through personal stories, people share their experiences with the occupation and how it affects their lives. Whether it is a long commute to and from work, or bullets raining into schoolyards, people overcome the daily obstacles before them. Despite the violent and confining conditions of checkpoints, curfews, roadblocks, barriers, fences, and in some cases, time in prison, people focus on their lives and the people around them.

Director Dahna Abourahme uses archival photographs, map animations and informational text for the film’s historical journey. In 1948, Israeli forces expelled 750,000 Palestinians from their land. Mid-May marks the Al-Nakba, the Catastrophe for Palestinians, and the creation of the Jewish state, Israel.

In 1949, people forced to flee from 45 surrounding villages formed Dheisheh. The camp began with clusters of refugee tents on jagged terrain. Now, Dheisheh is a congested sea of stone homes. Within a one-half square mile, 11,749 people live in an enclosed area of chain link fences trimmed with razor wire and several meters high. Armed soldiers stand in observation towers. The village’s history is an example of how refugee camps evolved throughout the West Bank and Gaza. At present, there are over five million Palestinian refugees.

Within the boundaries of occupation, people yearn for al-awda, the right of return to their ancestral land and villages. Originally from Zakariyya, Sana, a single woman, works in the UNRWA Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling. Her current project is the Mental Health for Palestinian Refugees. She devotes herself to her community.

This past year, Israeli forces blocked Palestinians from using Route 60, the main road from Bethlehem to Hebron. As a result, Sana has another 80 minutes added to her daily commute, provided there are no traffic jams. It is one example of how the occupation impacts Palestinians, and how Israeli policy creates advantages for settlers.

In subtle, pivotal moments, people reveal that the journey of Palestinian struggle leads to the heart. When the eldest, family members tell stories of what life was like when the family tended to their land, it arouses desires for freedom within the younger generations.

Abourahme intersperses the narrations with scenes of stone house ruins surrounded by groves of trees. The lens of the camera moves like a person walking over the large stones. In the background, a man sings. His rhythmic voice enhances the scene’s movement and change of pace. Every time the camera returns to this open place, it zooms in on one aspect of the ancestral site. At first, the focus is on the house ruins; next, the tree leaves against the sky; then, the large, green tomatoes that hover above the brown soil. The place is a stark contrast to a refugee’s life confined by stone walls.

In an aerial view of the land, a violin solo lingers, like the waiting in “Until When…” the film’s title. The pairing of these words not only reverberates within the music, but in-between and underneath the silences found in peoples’ life reflections.

The artistic effect reinforces what the people express in words and the aesthetic creation is flawless. The recurring motif has its own texture, and it depicts what people say through images and sound.

For the Hammash family, Grandmother Safia and Grandfather Ahmed talk about the fruits they picked in their orchards over a half-century ago. For them, it was yesterday. Despite the passage of time their vivid recollections evoke deep affections. They savor their sweet memories, which cling to their minds and to their senses. Moreover, they share them with their children and their grandchildren.

“This is the key to our house, when I look at it I see the house…I see the land, the people living there at the time,” Ahmed says.

His son, a mason, struggles with taking jobs from Israelis because of the occupation. “I’m working inside and there’s a man outside with a gun keeping watch over us,” he says. He quit smoking, so he could give the 500 shekels he would have spent to his children. For him, it is important to set an example for his children.

Two of his daughters interviewed study hard in school. Despite brushes with live bullets and frequent shelling within hearing distance of their classrooms, they set goals. In the future, the oldest daughter wants to be a lawyer and her sister, a heart surgeon.

The future is on the mind of another young man. Fadi, 13 years-old, dreams of becoming an Al-Jazeera journalist. While his mother cleans houses in Gilo, he cares for his four, younger brothers. Fadi cooks, cleans, shops, and dresses his little brothers. In his spare time he works on an artistic shrine encased with stones in his bedroom. It has photos of martyrs from the second intifada, pictures of the Palestine flag, decorative flowers, keys, and barbed wire. He believes the intifada begins with every person.

“It should be something inside of you,” he says.

Ghayda Daoub, four years-old, wraps her arm around her father, Emad. He describes his past experiences with brutality. Like most parents, he wants a better life for his daughter.

“I wish her a future of democracy, freedom and equality,” he says.

An integral part of Palestinian identity is the right to exercise free will, free autonomy, free from Israeli constrictions. The peoples’ personal stories convey sadness, frustration and nostalgia for absent family members. However, they live and marry, so the families dance and ululate when they celebrate momentous occasions. Palestinians affirm their human rights to freedom from oppression now and for future generations. Their shared feelings weave a narrative thread that leads to hope.

The power of choice is life.


The Chicago International Documentary Festival will have a screening of “Until When…” on Friday, April 8, 2005 at 5:30 P.M. at the Gallery Theatre in Chicago. More information is at

Directed by: Dahna Abourahme
Filmography as director includes: “Blue Flickers” (2000); and “Palestinian from Brooklyn” (1997).

“Until When…”
Country of production: USA/Palestine
Year: 2004
Language: Arabic, with English subtitles
Minutes: 76

Production Company: falafel daddy productions
Producer: Annemarie Jacir
Cinematography: Annemarie Jacir, Suzy Salamy
Editing: Dahna Abourahme
Sound: Jesse Ehredt
Music: Kamran Rastegar & Zafer Tawil


Sonia Nettnin is a freelance writer. Her articles and reviews demonstrate civic journalism, with a focus on international social, economic, humanitarian, gender, and political issues. Media coverage of conflicts from these perspectives develops awareness in public opinion.

Nettnin received her bachelor's degree in English literature and writing. She did master's work in journalism. Moreover, Nettnin approaches her writing from a working woman's perspective, since working began for her at an early age.

She is a poet, a violinist and she studied professional dance. As a writer, the arts are an integral part of her sensibility. Her work has been published in the Palestine Chronicle, Scoop Media and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. She lives in Chicago.

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