When I first met Farah Nabulsi at a screening of her three compelling short films at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD), I was captivated by not only her composure, but also by her ability to touch everyone’s heart with the lucidity of her commitment for justice in Palestine.
Little did this UK-born former banker and entrepreneur know that her visit to Palestine in 2013 would ignite a spark of creativity that has since given rise to worldwide, filmmaker and social activist.
During this fateful trip she visited Hebron, passing through checkpoints and settlements, witnessing the mistreatment of children and thinking, ‘what if that was my child?’ In Bethlehem, it was the scale of the eight-meter wall, which shocked and horrified Farah.
It deeply impacted me psychologically and I don’t even live there. The concrete element of it is so overwhelming and what it symbolizes is so grotesque, that I was stunned. We take so much for granted and seeing all the humiliations and impediments to basic every day movements and activities that Palestinians have to continuously deal with was heartbreaking… it was a very emotional trip.
Farah had always thought she understood the situation until she saw first hand what was happening.
Nothing had prepared me for the relentless, calculated and systemic machinery of discrimination grinding down Palestinians in some excruciating way – day in, day out.
Her identification with what she witnessed was so palpable, that Farah went into depression after her trip. “I felt violated as a person.” This period of burning introspection was valuable as it ultimately made her wake up. “Here I was, safe in my life of privilege, where I had the protection of my rights and means for redress should anything go wrong in my life. Yet Palestinians don’t have this option. It broke my heart; I needed to be a voice for them.”
Her personal process of catharsis started through journaling. Farah began to write pieces about her experiences in Palestine. I needed to express my feelings about what I had seen. I felt suffocated by the weight of the injustice and writing it down was totally self-therapy at the time”, she says. “At the time I didn’t know what I would do with these writings.”
Farah eventually found the pieces over a year later and when she read them she broke down in tears.
I realized I had a choice; to recoil into my own cocoon and turn a blind eye, or let my depression manifest further or channel the sadness and pain in a creative and positive way.
Fortunately, she chose the latter course of action, writing the scripts for what was to become Oceans of Injustice and Today They Took My Son. By associating these pieces with the perennial cycle of suffocation, pressure, entrapment and insecurity woven tightly into the fabric of Palestinian society, she discovered an inner voice beginning to speak up for justice.
Since then Farah transformed this content into screenplays, founding a media production company, Native Liberty, dedicated to helping others see and feel what the Palestinians experience every day. In 2016 she screened her first three films, Oceans of Injustice, Today They Took My Son and The Nightmare of Gaza.
Whilst her material is based on documented facts, she has chosen to share these in story form, rather than a documentary style.
People love stories, it’s more effective for people to receive information that hits them where they feel.
Farah continued to explain that if you talk to people through the mind, you will be received by their minds. If you communicate through your heart, their hearts will hear you. “Studies demonstrate that when you reach people’s hearts they are inspired to act on their emotions. I believe that the arts play a crucial role in changing the world and film probably most of all. It gives voices to the silenced and hearing those voices helps build the mutual understanding needed to effect change.” She stated.
Her aim is to move everyone who sees her films into gaining fresh perspectives on the plight of Palestine to foster their individual call-for-action; whatever that may be for them. What she hadn’t anticipated at the time was the product of her mission. “Delving deep into universal themes of tragedy and hope has allowed me to unveil my creative side which has enriched me is so many ways,” she adds.
Gaining accolades with her three films now screened at festivals worldwide, Farah has been propelled into a social activism niche that has lead her to interact with figures that she had once admired from afar. From Noam Chomsky, Ken Loach, Sean Penn and more; there is a growing community of personalities that are doing what they can to foster global awareness of the Palestinian occupation through their individual modes of expression.
Naturally her parents are proud of her work. “My father was born in Egypt, but his father in Palestine. He likes that I am involved in ‘soft power’; another means to foster progress.” Her mother was born in Nablus, Palestine and is very proud of my work. “But like most Palestinian parents, she is also fearful. I refuse to let fear be the defining element of my work and choices,” she clarifies.
She recognizes the stigma of fear that has been instilled into Palestinians for generations and with it comes a mistrust, uncertainty and desensitization.
Narratives on the Palestinian situation are missing emotion and although there is sympathy for the Palestinians, people are disconnected, with insufficient empathy. Throughout history colonizers dehumanize the indigenous population. This formula is used so people do not empathize, so that they can continue to carry out crimes and atrocities.
This is not to say that apathy reins throughout. Farah explains “Palestinians in the diaspora are great at charity, which is excellent but it only puts a Band-Aid on a festering wound, and has done nothing to stop the deterioration of the situation, or reverse it. Although it still vital to support relief based charities, the main grassroots that exist today outside of Palestine are not even run by Palestinians. Grassroots are fundamental in supporting change. Organizations like the Jewish Voice for Peace and Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the UK are our lifeline. More support for them is needed.” Historically, western governments have not felt enough pressure from its citizens for change with respect to Palestine-Israel.
We have to get people to empathize and understand. Powerful artistic advocacy leads the way for that.
In addition to working on two new films to be completed before the end of this year, Farah is playing her part to nudge global consciousness into reaching its ‘tipping point’ in relation to this decades-long scourge with her website, Oceans of Injustice (currently being rebranded to Native Liberty Project) to raise awareness by sharing the films, facts, resources and tools on how to support the cause effectively.
Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Tanya knew that Palestine was her symbolic homeland. Always curious about her identity and connecting with her roots, she was eager to strengthen her ties to the Levant and traveled the region, desperate to learn more. It wasn’t until her first trip to Palestine that she became spiritually and emotionally connected.
She studied Political Science and Sociology at the University of Toronto. She then moved to the UAE, supporting numerous NGOs related to children’s welfare in the region. When she had her own family, she created the My Olive Roots platform in the hopes that her children and the Arabs diaspora would have a place to connect, learn and preserve their roots. Tanya enjoys discovering humanist stories and exploring the connection of food and art with culture.