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Sonia Nettnin Film Review: Rainbow

Film Review: Rainbow

By Sonia Nettnin

Director Abdel Salam Shehada looks at the devastation in Rafah, a southern Gaza city, caused by Israeli Operation Forces. Survivors lose family members, friends and their homes. Is filmmaking about life or death? (Photo courtesy of Ramattan Studios)

Director Abdel Salam Shehada’s “Rainbow,” documents the killing and structural devastation in Rafah, caused by Israel’s Operation Rainbow in May 2004.

When people see a rainbow, they see bright colors against a sunny sky. They associate it with wishes and dreams, like the character of Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” who sang: “Somewhere over the rainbow / Way up high, / There’s a land that I heard of / Once in a lullaby.”

In May 2004 in Rafah, a southern Gaza city, Operation Rainbow was not a dream. No Palestinian could escape it - there was no place to hide.

“Rainbow is the mixture of colors of destroyed homes, sabotaged streets, and displaced people,” Shehada says.

He narrates his philosophical approach to filmmaking and how he transforms his ideas into pictures. For him, the cinematic process is an artistic means of dealing with the warfare of occupation.

He begins with a reenactment of a boy’s birthday party. The melancholy, mournful sounds of a nay (flute), an oud (Arabic fretless lute) and a piano set the mood. Against the moon’s light, images swirl from a whirling wind and reveal a tragic story.

Raed celebrated his son’s birthday with his wife and his three children. While the family gathered around the cake, an Israeli bulldozer demolished the house. Raed lost his wife, his sons Aiman and Mohammad and his daughter Dalia. Their toddler sandals lay in house debris, along with the birthday gifts their father bought that day. A child’s red sweater rests on a cement block. Raed survived his tragedy and he tells it to the director.

“This is the blouse he never got to wear,” he says.

The director’s friend, Ibrahim, is an abstractionist artist. Whenever the media reports a killing, he visits the site of a tragedy. He makes faces out of the ground. He mixes mud with red glue. His haunting images signify the life lost and the injustice of these senseless deaths.

“The land is a human being screaming,” he says.

Twenty days after Raed’s loss, his grandmother died.

Rafah is the most dangerous place to live in the world. Posters line walls full of young men and women killed by the IOF. Rooftops of corrugated iron cover crowded houses. Shehada says the homes have “…windows open to nothingness.”

The director shares his family’s history. Originally from the village of Barbara, his father married his mother. In 1948, they fled to Rafah. Although the family lived in Rafah, his father worked in Jaffa and he returned home every six months. Shehada loved the feel of his father’s arms.

When people lose their homes, their personal belongings are on public display. One man described how it is a violation of privacy and intimacy. They are piles of stories.

When the director filmed his first film, “Palestinian Diaries,” which was a joint-production with two other filmmakers, one of the directors, Nazeh Adel Darwazeh, lost his life while filming. While Shehada filmed “Rainbow,” Israeli tanks opened fired into crowds demonstrating against the occupation.

During Operation Rainbow, two children lost their lives on their home’s rooftop. Asma fetched laundry for her baby sibling and her younger brother, Ahmad, fed their pigeons. An Israeli sniper shot them in their heads. Their older brother found Ahmad dead on the stairs and Asma dead on the roof.

Omar adopted a little girl, Rawan, whose mother died when she was two-months old. He prepared her bottles and he fed her. Omar slept as long as Rawan was in his arms. Rawan was five years-old. One day, she walked to the candy store. An Israeli sniper shot her in the eye and in the neck.

“Her scream split the heavens,” one woman says.

During Operation Rainbow, people had a difficult time removing the bodies of their loved ones because the IOF would not allow ambulances through the checkpoints. Corpses filled the morgue’s cooler. They ran out of room. Rafah’s greenhouse owner stores his red carnations in large, plastic containers. He donated his containers so people could store 32 more bodies. They moved the makeshift morgue alongside the Mediterranean Sea, so people could pay their final respects. People filled glasses with a red mixture and placed them next to the bodies, covered in clear, plastic bags. Heads came out of the openings and their families kissed them through the plastic.

According to various media sources, IOF’s Operation Rainbow killed approximately 50 people and demolished 400 houses within the seven-day operation. IOF reported the operation was to uncover tunnels used for smuggling weapons. They found one tunnel and damaged $8,000,000 in infrastructure. The United Nations and human rights organizations called on the IOF to stop their military operation, which involved a list of human rights violations and war crimes.

Despite their tragic experiences, survivors remarry and live resilient lives. The Palestinian people hope for a better future for their children.


“Rainbow” will be showing Saturday, April 30th at St. Xavier University, 3700 W. 103rd Street, Chicago at 4 P.M., for the 2005 Chicago Palestine Film Festival.

Script and Directed by: Abdel Salam Shehada
Produced by: Ramattan Studios
Production Manager: Qassem Ali
Country of Production: Palestine
Year: 2004
Minutes: 39
Cameraman: Abdel Salam Shehada; Mahmoud Al Bayed; Labeeb Jazmawi
Music: Saeed Morad
Sound Track: Kamelia Jubran
Lyrics: Sayed Hijab
Sound: Mohamed Shabat; Ibrahim Yagi
Editing and Mixing: Tamer Mansor
Translation: Nour Odeh
Filmography as Director includes: Debris (Radm), (Palestine, 2001); The Cane, (Palestine, 2000); The Shadow, (Palestine, 2000); Water - the Reality of the Challenge, (Palestine, 1998); Close to Death, (Palestine, 1997); Little Hands, (Palestine, 1996);
Human Rights are Women's Rights, (Palestine, 1995).


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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