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Sonia Nettnin Film Review: Arafat, My Brother

Film Review: Arafat, My Brother

By Sonia Nettnin

The late Dr. Fathi Arafat (1933-2004) (left) and his brother, the late Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat (1929-2004) (right) were close brothers.

Director Rashid Masharawi wanted Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat (1929 – 2004) to answer a two-part question: What is the Palestinian peoples’ hope for a future? What will happen to us next?

The film “Arafat, My Brother” or “Arafat, Mon Frere,” begins in the summer of 2003; almost a year after Israeli forces’ second round of attacks against the Muqata’a, Arafat’s compound in Ramallah. They destroyed it. As Masharawi narrates, Arafat was a prisoner of Israel.

However, the Palestinian leader was not accessible to anyone – established relationships create diplomatic meetings. So Masharawi befriended Arafat’s sole living brother at the time, Dr. Fathi Arafat (1933 – 2004), founder and president of the Palestine Red Crescent Society, established in 1968.

Masharawi’s next challenge: Fathi is with his sister, Yousra Abdel Raouf Al Kidwah, (1926? – 2003) who is sick in Cairo’s Palestine Hospital. It is a delicate situation. Sleeping on the ground at the border crossing between Rafah and Egypt is not pleasant, but the director sets aside his personal discomforts for the film’s endeavor.

At the hospital, he asks Fathi questions. Growing up, Yasser cared for Fathi like a father. He fed him and he clothed him. When they walked to school, Yasser held Fathi’s hand. Even though Fathi liked vegetables he ate meat because Yasser ate meat. Yasser wanted to be a lion.

On August 14, 2003, their sister dies. The director films Fathi watching his brother mourning on T.V. The director looks through the Arafat family’s photographs. Masharawi says they are a family in many ways, but in other ways they are not. The apartment where Yasser grew up and hatched the plan to free Palestine is not accessible. Padlocks and chains prevent visitors, but Masharawi takes a quick camera shot through the rooms.

In the middle of family matters, members of the Israeli Cabinet want Arafat eliminated from the political scene. The 2002 destruction of the Muqata’a communicated this message publicly. In Ramallah, Palestinians demonstrate their unified support for Arafat, the man who conveyed their revolutionary principles. They chant relentlessly. Masharawi and Fathi watch the action on T.V.

“It’s the kind of life that calls for total commitment to the cause,” Fathi says.

Despite the despondent situation, Fathi explains that Yasser has so many resources at his disposal. He has confidence, he has plenty of friends and he has the means to deal with the situation. Over the years, Yasser demonstrated his strength by adapting to a situation at any time. Flexibility and versatility are resounding qualities for any person, especially a leader. The message between Fathi’s lines: Israel will not break Yasser.

The film does not acknowledge the mysteries behind Arafat’s money. With the volume of media reporting about the lack of separation between Arafat’s private accounts and the Palestinian public funds it deems appropriate that the film would address the issue. The examination would not be at great length, but it should have addressed it, regardless of the findings. Did audits account for Palestinian cash flows? The omission of the financial aspect of his money left unanswered questions.

Some biographical information about Yasser from Fathi sheds some light on the statements Fathi made about his brother. At the age of 18, Yasser was president of the Palestine Students Union. While in school he led political meetings, he rallied students and he led political demonstrations. By the age of 20, he commanded operations in Egypt. In 1951, at the age of 22, he attacked the British and in 1956, he was an officer in the Egyptian Army.

Masharawi still wants the opportunity to ask the Palestinian leader questions. He waits patiently.

Then, Fathi undergoes chemotherapy for colon cancer at Gustave Roussy Hospital in Paris. He lives in Masharawi’s apartment. The chemotherapy treatments crack layers of Fathi’s skin from his hands and feet. The nurse trims it away. His hands are raw and red.

“The cancer is the occupation,” Fathi says. “Then there’s the second cancer.” For him, both cancers work on his immunity and his morale.

Masharawi has questions, but the circumstances are not conducive for questioning.

“What am I after?” he asks himself.

Finally, Masharawi has a two-day pass for Ramallah so he can have dinner with Fathi and his brother. He asks his questions and Arafat responds.

Soon after that evening, Fathi is in Cairo’s Palestine Hospital undergoing treatment. Meanwhile, Arafat is in a Paris hospital living out his final days. On November 11, 2004, Arafat died. Fathi did not know about the death. Three weeks later, December 1, 2004, Fathi died.

Neither brother knew that the other brother died.

As young boys, Fathi and Yasser held hands. In their final days, they were countries apart.

The film raises more questions for discussion.


Directed by: Rashid Masharawi
Produced by: Hubert Balf, Hind Saib
Voice Over: Rashid Masharawi
Country of production: France/Palestine
Year: 2005
Language: In French and Arabic, with English subtitles
Minutes: 80
Production Company: Cinema Production and Distribution Center in Ramallah
Camera and Sound: Rashid Masharawi and Laurent Didier
Filmography as Director Includes: - Hummus for the Feast (Hummus al-Eed), (Palestine, 2003); Ticket to Jerusalem,(Palestine/Netherlands, 2001); Live From Palestine, (Palestine, 2001); Season of Love, (Palestine, 2001); Makloubeh,(Palestine, 2000); Out Of Focus, Documentary (Palestine, 2000); Behind The Walls, (Palestine, 1999); Tension, (Palestine, 1998); Rabab, (Palestine, 1997); One Step and Another, (Palestine, 1996); Waiting (Intizar) (Palestine, 1995) Haifa, (Palestine/Netherlands, 1995); Curfew, (Palestine, 1993); Long Days in Gaza, (Palestine, 1991); Dar O Dour, (Palestine, 1991); The Shelter, (Palestine, 1989); Travel Document, (Palestine, 1986).


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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