Abdallah Al-Khatib’s searing documentary was completed two years ago; its arrival now has an awful new significance. The film conveys the day-by-day, moment-by-moment experience of Palestinians living in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, known as “Little Palestine” (in fact, Al-Khatib’s birthplace), while it was under siege by the Assad government from 2013 to 2015. This resulted in 181 people dying of hunger and ended when Islamic State took control of the camp. The terror group were themselves driven out by Russian and Syrian forces in 2018, resulting in most of the camp’s destruction.
The frightful process of starving to death is terrifying. In order to survive, individuals resort to consuming cactus and inedible plants. Al-Khatib’s camera often captures the poignant moments of brave and optimistic children, but one of the most disturbing scenes in the film is when a young girl calmly searches for the edible herb verbena in the harsh ground filled with weeds. Like many others interviewed in the film, she is in a traumatized state but remains eerily calm as her body and mind try to adjust to the lack of food. Despite the nearby explosions that scare the interviewer, the little girl appears unfazed.
A phrase painted on a wall states: “I am from a nation where open windows reveal a lack of sustenance.” An elderly gentleman inquires the filmmaker if he possesses a sweet almond. A scarce organization providing food assistance pours soup into individuals’ bags, as they are the only containers remaining. A man shouts in the street: “We do not desire Palestine, just rescue us from Syria – is there anything more terrible than this starvation?” It serves as a documentation of the past, but also serves as an almost unbearable caution of future suffering.