Relocated, Dislocated

Docville Screens Palestinian Refugee Narrative A World Not Ours

  • Ain el Helweh, a refugee camp in the southern coastal city of Sidon in Lebanon, houses over 70,000 Palestinians in a single square kilometre.

In his film A World Not Ours, Palestinian filmmaker Mahdi Fleifel masterfully pieces together one of the most hushed narratives of the Palestinian struggle—the story of the Palestinian refugees languishing in the camps set up for them in nearby Arab countries.


Weaving together archives of family videos, his own documentary diary and narration, Fleifel presents Ain el Helweh—a refugee camp in Lebanon’s southern coastal city of Sidon that houses over 70,000 Palestinians in a single square kilometre.

The documentary tells the story of the camp’s residents, including Fleifel’s own family, as they traverse a life in which they find themselves lost in a nightmarish limbo between their inability to return to their lands in Palestine, and Lebanon’s severe restrictions on their mobility, education and employment rights.

“There are about 70 professions that Palestinians in Lebanon are not allowed to work in,” said Fleifel in a Skype interview from France. “They can’t be doctors, lawyers and teachers. They can’t be policemen; they can’t work in the army. They’re not allowed to own land, or property.

“It’s kind of a bit of a mess really. The Lebanese argument is ‘if we give the Palestinians their rights in this country, and they become Lebanese citizens, then we deny them the right to return to their homeland. We want to help them return by not making them Lebanese citizens,’ which is of course, bullshit. The truth is that they just want to keep the Palestinians out of the political game.”

According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, over 450,000 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon, and half of that number live in refugee camps. In 2006 the United Nations High Commission on Refugees described the plight of Palestinian refugees as “by far the most protracted and largest of all refugee problems in the world today.”

“If I didn’t tell the story of my relatives, my friends, and family in Ain el Helweh, no one would have heard about them, no one would have even known that they existed.”
—Mahdi Fleifel

Fleifel says although he finds filmmaking to be a “terrible profession and a horrid, unhealthy lifestyle,” he felt the need to make this film about Ain el Helweh and its residents, especially because he was one of the lucky ones able to get out.

“If I didn’t tell the story of my relatives, my friends and family in Ain el Helweh, no one would have heard about them, no one would have even known that they existed. As Palestinians, throughout our history there have been many forces trying to insist that we don’t exist, in fact, it was stated many times that there is no such thing as a Palestinian people.

“And so, to counter that, throughout our history we have tried to say ‘no, we do exist,’ and sometimes we would resort to some terrible violent means to express that,” Fleifel continued.

“Palestinians want to be heard, they want to be seen, they want to be visible. I think maybe there is an inherent need or urge, as sort of part of the Palestinian genetic code, that needs to express, or to record, this existence. And I did feel like this was a responsibility for me in making this film.”

Mahdi Fleifel’s A World Not Ours will be screened as part of the Montreal International Documentary Festival series Docville on Thursday June 27 at 8 p.m. at Cinéma Excentris. The film screening will be followed by a Q&A with the director via Skype.

Regular tickets are $11.75, or $9.25 for students and seniors.

By commenting on this page you agree to the terms of our Comments Policy.