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Western Arabs by Omar Shargawi

Monday 16 November 2020, by Abla Kandalaft

Filmed over the course of 12 years, Western Arabs is a chaotic and fascinating look at the intergenerational trauma and impact of displacement.

Omar’s father, Munir, was amongst the Palestinians that were forced to flee their homes after 1948. Still a young child, he fled with his family to Jordan before eventually immigrating to Denmark. It was there that he met his Danish wife, with whom he later had three sons, Omar and his two brothers, who appear to be at loggerheads most of the time.

Motivated by a desire to forge a closer relationship with his father and to shed light on both his father’s past and his own personal behaviour and bouts of depression, Omar films bits of his life and their interactions over a decade. Footage of domestic arguments and fights, hugs and jokes, is interspersed with news clips from Israeli bombings of Gaza and protests in Egypt, as well as - fairly confusingly - footage from Omar’s other films.

The resulting chaos is actually the film’s ultimate strength. Munir will carry the burden of his past, the trauma and the bitterness felt at the injustice that was done to him and his family to his death. And although he was clearly capable of great love, a great deal of his conflict with his identity borne out of his own struggle to adapt as a Palestinian in Denmark was passed on to Omar, whose bouts of aggressive and erratic behaviour seem rather aimless, in contrast with his father’s specific anger at the plight of his people.

At the time of Munir’s death, Palestinians were - and still are - at the receiving end of much of the aggression and dispossession that they faced when he was a child. As a result, somewhere, it becomes impossible to seek closure, and in many ways the anger that drives the likes of Munir is needed to keep Palestinian identity alive in the face of erasure, and to keep their demands for statehood, right of return and to live in dignity at the forefront of the discourse in the region.

The film will resonate with many people who have faced displacement through the generations. It also provokes many questions around identity and integration and lingers on in the mind long after the end credits.

The film is screening as part of the London Palestine Film Festival.

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