Seeds of an unholy mess: The Jordanian film that upset Palestinians

At the age of 16, Amira, the protagonist of a film that was supposed to represent Jordan at the Oscars, discovers that she is not the daughter of a Palestinian political prisoner but of his prison guard. But the provocation did not work, Palestinian prisoners’ organisations protested, and Jordan decided not to send it to the Oscars.

By Samah Salaime (Translated by Sol Salbe)

The film Amira was screened as part of the Palestinian Days of Film festival. I watched it in Haifa, and after watching it I realised that it was not screened in Ramallah as scheduled.

After seeing it, I realised what was so jarring about the film to Palestinians, to prisoners and their families and to the Commission of Detainees Affairs in the Palestinian Authority, who today fight in the media against the screening of the film in the Arab world and call on the Kingdom of Jordan to ban the screening within its borders.

The director of the film is a young Egyptian, Mohamed Diab. The main actress is Jordanian Saba Mubarak , and the main actor is a Palestinian named Ali Suliman. The film was shot in Jordan and was listed to represent that country at the upcoming Oscars Awards. This is probably why it is at the heart of a media storm these days in the Arab world.

The film purports to raise awareness of the most painful issue for Palestinians in the shadow of the Occupation: the open wound of thousands of families, whose loved ones spend many years behind bars as security and political prisoners under harsh conditions. They may disappear from sight, but not disappear from the public consciousness.

In the Palestinian ethos, political prisoners pay the highest price, and there is a broad consensus that they symbolise self-sacrifice for the homeland. That is why Palestinian society embraces the wives of prisoners and their children.

Palestinian prisoners do not have the right to conjugal visit or even the right to touch or be in contact with their spouses, and are therefore denied the right to paternity. More than a decade ago, inmates began smuggling sperm out of prison to have children. This method of smuggling, dubbed the liberated seeds, is at the heart of the film Amira: a battle for life that the prison is trying to cut short and the couple insists on creating.

Amira, the name of the heroine of the film, was born from a smuggled seed. At the time of the film she is 16 years old, and her imprisoned father wants to bring another child into the world. However, a laboratory test reveals that he is infertile, and then the question arises as to who the father of the wise and beautiful Amira is actually.

As soon as the search for Amira’s biological father (princess in Arabic) begins, the poor mother is immediately accused of betraying her beloved and heroic husband. From here onwards the film begins to deteriorate in a shallow and convoluted plot. Every man in the family environment must undergo a DNA test, including the friend who supports the prisoner’s family, a teacher by profession, who turns out to be gay. It is as if we are missing another complication in this dish of nationalism, family honour, violence against women, the sanctity of prisoners, and the Occupied homeland.

The mother maintains silence in the face of her grumpy and threatening family. She tries to fabricate a story about having sex with the husband’s friend, a resistance man who later became a martyr. But the woman’s desperate attempt fails to save her daughter from the truth revealed at the height of the story when it is revealed that Amira was actually born from the seed of a Jewish prisoner in prison who replaced the father’s seed with his own. For a puzzling reason, the director and screenwriter had to remind us of the source of the Zionist and occupying evil, which makes the lives of the prisoners miserable and complicates even their descendants’ lives.

The girl Amira instantly transforms from a hero’s daughter into the daughter of an occupier, who is then faced with two unfortunate options: to leave her home and flee abroad as a refugee, or to end her life in a confrontation with IDF soldiers in the struggle for Palestine. But this despair raises the most essential, and in fact the only, choice facing the Palestinian people and that is the choice of life.

The film Amira is a mediocre film, which managed to put all the problems of the Palestinian people in one small pressure cooker for an hour and a half. As if this is the last film in the history of the Palestinian people, so everything must be pushed into it.

Here’s the big miss in my eyes. Instead of the audience connecting to the main story, the matter for which the film’s protagonist came behind bars in the first place, and the denial of a human right from him and all political prisoners, the plot deceives the viewer from every direction and leads us with Amira to a dead end instead of liberation.

The Palestinian Commission of Detainees Affairs came out against the screening of the film because of the ridicule and exploitation of this painful issue in the history of the struggle of the Palestinian people. The portrayal of the Palestinian woman as a scarred body because of the patriarchal and chauvinistic oppression and not because of the military oppression is seen as an insult. So is the fact that the Palestinian people, represented by Amira’s family, are incapable of accommodating the complexity of a semi-Jewish girl, who was born and raised as a brave and courageous Palestinian, and a DNA test has made her a traitor against her will. The burden of proof in the test of belonging to the Palestinian people rests on her shoulders.

It is also possible that the fact that the film was released around the same period as the escape of the six Palestinian political prisoners from Gilboa Prison, which further increased the interest and identification with the prisoners, contributed to the commotion around it.

The pressure has reached such an extent that the Royal Film Commission in Jordan announced, on Thursday Dec 9, that the film’s nomination will be removed from the list of nominees for the 2022 Oscars.

To illustrate to you the mental anguish the film inflicts on prisoners and women, imagine that one of the Jewish jailers, who allegedly fell victim to male wardens who pimped them to Palestinian security prisoners [ a recent news story -tr], would have become pregnant and give birth to a child from one of the prisoners. The Jewish boy grows up and enlists in the IDF, where he discovers that he is half Palestinian and his father is in fact a “terrorist” and to prove that he is a Zionist, he would have to “neutralize” [ie murder] all Palestinians at the checkpoint.

Would you like to see a movie like this? My answer is: No, thank you. I’ll skip this time.

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