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Sonia Nettnin Film Review: The Land of ‘48

Film Review: The Land of ‘48

By Sonia Nettnin

On a cliff in the Galilee Finger, Palestinian refugees have a scenic view of their native village, just on the other side of a barbed wire fence" (Photo courtesy of CPFF).

She shows the camera a stack of title receipts. The papers, an aged brown, are over fifty years-old. Her grandfather paid the Government of Palestine, under British Mandate, 224 piastres (equal to 2.24 British pounds) for his monthly land taxes.

“We didn’t know they were going to steal our land,” his granddaughter says.

The Palestinian expression, “The Land of ’48,” is the title of Director Barrack Rima’s documentary about Palestinian refugees who live in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank, and Gaza.

The expression refers to the geographical area where Palestinian families lived prior to Al-Nakba, the Catastrophe. According to the film, in 1948, 800,000 Palestinians forced to flee their land sought refuge in neighboring countries, or as Rima narrates “….pushed (them) out of space, and therefore out of time.”

In May 1998, a man from Syrian traveled to Safad and he videotaped his visit. Rima shows the man’s tape to a Palestinian mother and her son whose ancestors are from Safad. With deep concentration, they watch the images of white, stone houses.

Rima rides with a Palestinian cab driver who lives in Lebanon, which has 200,000 to 400,000 registered Palestinian refugees. They drive until they reach a cliff in the Galilee Finger. It has a breathtaking view. Some of the people can see their native village on the other side of the barbed wire fence. A remote-controlled surveillance camera monitors them.

People point to a map that has the names of their ancestral villages. Fingers cover the map. Rima interviews Palestinians in the Diaspora who have images of their villages based on the life stories of their parents and grandparents.

“One’s relationship to a place is not just a material place,” one man says. “…it’s a relationship to culture, history and the horizon.”

Another man describes the challenges of building a future when he lives in a country as an outsider. In Lebanon, Palestinians have no civil rights and the government does not allow them to work in dozens of trades. When people have limited means for survival, they find it difficult to plan for the future and their children’s future.

Rima interviews groups of people in different countries. He transitions the scenes with footage from his car travels. It enhances the distance associated with expulsion. During Al-Nakba, thousands of people traveled these distances mostly on foot.

In Jordan, a group of children sing and clap in front of a sea of crowded, stone houses. The country has 1.8 million registered refugees. Space is tight. People do not have green, front lawns and backyards. Four years ago, one man visited his native village, Bir es Sabaa. Israeli Forces ploughed the farmland, including graveyards, and they cut trees for settlements. The man brought home the earth of Palestine. With a glass of water, he swallowed it. He wanted a piece of his home in his stomach. The message from his family members: war burns land, people and peace; and peace is the return of the land.

Another man, originally from Dichoum, near Lake Al Houlah, explained he would be willing to share the land with Jewish people because the land he owned was 24 km2. In rapid succession, snapshots of individuals with tear-filled faces express the peoples’ disheartenment by their displacement. While the narrator states the name of a family’s native village, the camera shows them standing together.

One woman claimed the chickens ran away. Yet, people retell the conditions of their expulsion. Originally from Tirah, one man said that Israeli militia burned twelve, disabled people to death. They put people in vehicles and drove them to the Jordanian border. Another woman, Jamileh, stated her uncle told her the Stern Group planned a massacre in her village. She left with her family.

In these massacres, militia showed no mercy. They raped women in front of their husbands and they disemboweled pregnant women. People faced a dilemma: remain at home and risk the family’s safety; or save the family from potential harm and lose their property. People who left decided to save their families . . . they ran for their lives.

According to one man, honor is not just about a woman’s virginity. Honor is pride and dignity in land ownership, which is a means of providing for a family’s needs. Farmland gave the people every kind of food for sustenance: wheat, vegetables, olives, and citrus fruit. One woman, Om Nizer, explains that people may have a house but no land.

Most of the people understand their native village does not look the way they left it or what they learned about it from other family members. The overall feeling is people still carry the pain of displacement because they feel deprived of a reality in their homeland.

The land of ’48 contains peoples’ memories and Palestinians perceive the right of return to their land as the genuine road map to peace.


Directed by: Barrack Rima
Assistant Director: Abderrahmane El Asri
Camera Crew: Abderrahmane El Asri; Patrice Hardy
Co-production: Centre de l’Audiovisuel a Bruxelles (C.B.A. and Fragments a.s.b.l.)
Country of production: Belgium
Year: 2003
Language: Arabic, with English subtitles
Minutes: 57
Editing: Aude Grillon
Image: Hichame Alaouie
Sound: Patrice Hardy
Music: Patrice Hardy; Jean Hubert Adam; Nocholas Yates
Voice Over Text: Barrack Rima with an excerpt from Elias Sanbar
English Adaptation: Jane Corrigan


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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