Yarmouk is a district of the capital of Syria, Damascus, some eight kilometers from the center, which was established in the mid-fifties as a refugee camp for Palestinians. In the next half century, Yarmouk turned almost into a city in itself and was administratively transformed into a city area in the metropolitan area of Damascus where, according to the 2004 census, 137,000 people, mostly Palestinians, lived. The problems for the residents there started in 2012 when the civil war broke out in Syria and there was a clash between the regular army and rebels against President Bashar Al-Assad.
It was in Yarmouk that the director of this documentary, Abdallah Al-Khatib, was born in 1989. At the time of filming this poignant and shocking documentary, he did not even know that he would become a documentarian. He was assisted in the editing by the experienced Syrian editor Qutaiba Bahramji, and the plot of the film is set linearly and we follow the events there from the beginning of the conflict and through the next year or two when the humanitarian disaster struck Yarmouk. Just as the film’s subtitle suggests, the city is under occupation and there is no in or out. Those who were there at the beginning of the war cannot leave Yarmouk. Numerous people who lived there and worked elsewhere could not return to Yarmouk for the next few years and many families remained separated.
And at the beginning of the film, we see how, in those first days, life was still so normal. Children are playing in the street, no one imagines that the siege could last so long. From time to time we have some protests, and as time goes by the situation is getting worse. There is no food and water. There is no electricity or medicine and people become completely dependent on outside help, but it rarely comes, and when it does, there is nowhere near enough food for everyone. In one situation, the director with the Red Cross tries to go to the Checkpoint for help, but instead of food, they are met with machine gun shots. The bombing of Yarmouk is a daily occurrence, and as the situation escalates, many residents start eating cacti, roots and seeds in order not to die of starvation.
Although Al-Khatib immediately shows his UN card in the opening scene because he worked for one of their organizations, he consciously chooses to stay in Yarmouk and record what is happening. And all that we see is really shocking and tragic, shocking and unimaginable. A humanitarian crisis of the worst possible proportions, and in addition to being the director, often also the cameraman, Al-Khatib is not only one of the main protagonists of the film, but also a kind of leader for the people who live there and a man who took upon himself the task of raising the morale of the survivors. So we also have a particularly absurd scene where they find a piano and take it out into the street, among completely destroyed buildings, and one of his friends is playing. This documentary was shown at numerous world festivals, and Al-Khatib finished it in Germany, where he fled after ISIL captured Yarmouk in 2015 and further devastated it.