Fatah’s forgotten fighters in documentary “Perforated Memory”

Sandra Madi's 2008 feature-length documentary Perforated Memory, recently screened in Ramallah as part of The river has two banks project, is a stark account of the neglected fate of those who joined the Fatah party in the '60s and '70s to fight for the liberation of Palestine.

The film opens with Fatah's revolutionary statement announcing its first armed operation in 1964. The rest of the film takes place in Amman, Jordan in 2008, where former Fatah cadre, now living in poverty, recall their participation in the armed struggle against the Zionist occupation of Palestine. Various fedayeen tell of their imprisonment in Israel in the '60s and '70s and torture by Syrian forces after the split of the Palestinian political parties along lines of loyalty to the Syrian government in the 1980s.

Little romanticization

There is little romanticization of the heyday of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Madi's film. One bent, chain-smoking man recalls that during an operation two months after the 1967 war, his comrade Jamelah urinated on herself and was overcome with "smelly diarrhea," offering little additional detail. "This is the true story," he says, and it is the unflattering truth of what became of the once revolutionary Fatah and the PLO that Madi is after.

Unlike Lina Makboul's recommended documentary Leila Khaled, Hijacker, Perforated Memory is not interested in the ethics of armed resistance. Yaser Sbeih recalls the logistics of an armed attack on a Zionist settlement. "We saw their bodies flying in the air," he says of the effect of the grenades he and his comrades threw into a large crowd. But that is all that the viewer learns of the consequences of the attack.

Likewise, Therese Halaseh recounts of her role in the hijacking of a passenger plane, for which she served 12 years in Israeli prison. But the actual hijacking event is not fully told.

Halaseh explains that one of her comrades was shot dead by Israeli soldiers who boarded the plane posed as Red Cross humanitarians wishing to check on the welfare of the hostages. She also says that she saw one of the soldiers shoot a pregnant passenger in the head. But other details -- like what happened to the two other PLO fighters who were with her, and the hostage passengers -- are untold.

Perforated Memory does not pose questions about the consequences of armed resistance. It cuts to the issue of a liberation movement that has utterly forgotten those who were ready to sacrifice their lives for it.

There are no icons of the Palestinian resistance like Leila Khaled in Madi's film; these are Fatah's anonymous cadre. The viewer doesn't learn most of the interviewees' names until the credits roll. There are no talking heads who provide historical context; this is no introduction to "the conflict." This film's intended audience seems to be Palestinians and those concerned with Palestine's liberation.

Palestinian "leadership's" sins

True to its title, there is no narration and little narrative structure to the film. The closest thing to a protagonist is Halaseh, whose raspy voice has been worn down to a low octave as a result of what one presumes to be a prolific smoking habit. Halaseh serves in an agency to distribute assistance to injured former fighters, and there is far more demand than the aid she is given from PLO higher-ups.

Of the Palestinian Authority leadership, Halaseh says, in between drags on her cigarette, "on judgement day, there's no scale that can take all their sins."

Halaseh's scathing commentary on the state of the Palestinian leadership and the neglect of the former fighters is interrupted with a clip of a Palestinian soldier, presumably guarding the PLO offices in Amman, cleaning his gun. And once Halaseh makes her final condemnation of the Palestinian "leadership," the viewer sees the same Palestinian soldier smiling at his post, a long way from the front lines of the armed resistance against the occupation of Palestine.

Not only has the organization to which these aging former fighters gave their lives forgotten them, but it has also forsaken and turned its back on the cause of Palestine's liberation. But if there is any comfort to be found in Madi's film, it is that these comrades aging in exile still have each other. As Halaseh says, these are the friendships forged on the front lines, in the prisons and the battle fields.


Maureen Clare Murphy

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Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.