Frontiers of Dreams and Fears

Mai Masri
Mai Masri
United States

Offering a rare glimpse into one side of the Middle East conflict, FRONTIERS OF DREAMS AND FEARS explores the lives of a group of Palestinian children growing up in refugee camps. The film focuses on two teenage girls, Mona and Manar. Although living in refugee camps miles apart, the girls manage to communicate and become friends with each other despite the overwhelming barriers separating them. The film reveals their lives and dreams and their growing relationship, at first through email, then culminating in their dramatic meeting at the fence that separates them at the Lebanese/Israeli border. Mona Zaaroura, aged 13, lives in Shatila Refugee Camp in Beirut. Located in the heart of Beirut's Belt of Misery, the camp is the site of the Sabra-Shatila massacre that shocked the world in 1982. Home to more than 20,000 Palestine and Lebanese children, Shatila provides a common experience of displacement, unemployment and poverty to those who live there. The camp consists of a maze of tight alleyways packed into a single square mile with families as large as 10 sharing a single room. Mona lives with her mother and seven brothers and sisters. Her father was killed during the 1987 siege of the camp. Manar Majed Faraj, 14, lives in Dheisha Refugee Camp outside of Bethlehem. Born when her father was in prison, Manar lives with her mother, two sisters and two brothers. Her father, out of prison for now, lives at home with the family. Both Mona and Manar participate in activities at community centers in their camps. One of these activities is using the Internet so that Palestinians from all over can communicate directly with each other. Mona and Manar are also traditional pen pals with other refugees, exchanging letters, photos and drawings, trying to stay in touch as much as possible. Manar convinces her grandfather to take her to their former village outside Jerusalem, Ras Abou Ammar. There Manar's grandfather finds the ruins of their home, destroyed by the Israeli Army in 1948. Manar dreams of being able to return some day. Manar is also able to visit Mona's former village, Saffouria. She takes a video for Mona and fills an envelope with rocks and dirt for her friend to treasure. In Shatila, the children celebrate their country by remembering the names of their former villages in Palestine. Each child tells the name of their village, locates it on old maps, then makes a key with the name of the village. The keys offer hope that someday these children might have a home of their own. With only voiceover translation and no narration, the Palestinian children share their hopes and fears in their own words. Although the film shows the harsh physical landscape of the camps, many times Mona and Manar appear as giggly and lighthearted as teenagers the world over, laughing and talking with their girlfriends about boys. During the six months of filming starting in May 2000, two important events happened in the Middle East. One was the sudden evacuation of Israeli forces from South Lebanon in May, reducing the once miles-thick border to a few strands of razor wire. Families who hadn't seen each others for decades journeyed to the now-flimsy border to hug, pass vegetables and kiss babies through the barbed wire, exchange greetings and inquire about lost family members. Mona and Manar manage to meet at the border fence, making the plight of the Palestinian people palpably clear. The last major event, which ends the film, was the beginning of the second Palestinian Intifada (insurrection or uprising in Arabic), in November 2000.