This is Yarmouk!
In early 2014, the eyes of the world were focussed on Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, when a shocking photo went viral. Released by UNRWA, it depicted hundreds of men, women and children queuing for food parcels, as part of an aid programme described as a ʹdrop in the oceanʹ in terms of need.
Some young Palestinian refugees had left Yarmouk soon after the Syrian uprising began in 2011, but not the charismatic actor and filmmaker Hassan Hassan (1985-2013). He was picked up later as he tried to leave. No-one heard any news of him for two and a half months, until the security authorities informed his parents that he had died. The parentsʹ grief was compounded when the authorities refused to give his body back. Itʹs now commonly believed that Hassan was tortured to death in prison, although the authorities insist that he ʹdied the day he was arrestedʹ in September 2013. As if one scenario is more palatable than the other.
Those who did manage to leave are now scattered across continents. Tasneem Fared (b. 1989) made it to Sicily and now lives in Germany; Samer Salameh (b. 1985) and Waed Abou Houssein (b. 1985) live in France; Alaa Alsadi (b. 1986) in Chile. For the young people of Yarmouk, the shebab, their sense of Nakba is reinforced by this exodus from the camp that was once their home.
A lasting testament
In the years that preceded the Arab Spring, French filmmaker Axel Salvatori-Sinz travelled to Syria to document the lives of the shebab in a film that would become both a classic and a lasting testament to the lives of these dreamers. From October 2009 to December 2011, Axelʹs camera was like a friend to the shebab, listening to them and opening its shutter to their woes and hopes.
The Shebabs of Yarmouk (2012) was screened in more than seventy festivals and earned many awards, among them Regard Neuf for Best First Film at Visions du Reel 2013 and RTP Award for Best Research Film at Doclisboa 2013.
Axelʹs family and friends were dumbstruck when he passed away on 6 January 2018, aged 36. Having been rushed to hospital on Christmas Eve, he was put into an induced coma, during which he was diagnosed with acute lymphatic cancer. Two weeks later, he died.
An overwhelming love for Palestine
The well-attended funeral took place in Chazay dʹAzergues near Lyon. Samer Salameh was one of the pallbearers and Tasneem Fared among the mourners, ululating as a Palestinian sister would at her brotherʹs wedding. Present too was an emphasis on Axelʹs love for Palestine, which was reiterated in a moving speech by his father.