Where Should the Birds Fly? documents the separate stories and shared experience of two women in Gaza. Mona Al Samouni is an 11 year old girl whose family died when her home was hit by Israeli rockets during Operation Cast Lead. Fida Qishta, the filmmaker, is a videographer, teacher, and human rights worker. Born and raised in Rafah, Gaza, she began her filmmaking career as a wedding videographer and soon moved on to working with international human rights observers in Gaza, documenting day to day life under siege.
In the opening sequences of the film we see all these aspects of Fida’s life — a wedding, the efforts of farmers and fishermen to carry out their work under siege, and the destruction of her family home in Rafah by Israeli bulldozers. The film follows farmers attempting to work their fields and harvest crops near the Gaza-Israel border coming under gunfire from Israeli border patrols. It documents the efforts of fishermen to maintain their livelihood while under attack from Israeli gunboats. Fida’s graphic coverage of the late 2008 to early 2009 military attack on Gaza concludes her story and leads us directly into Mona’s story.
Mona explains, just several days after the actual events, how she witnessed the deaths of five family members when rockets were fired into the house where they sought refuge. The film then follows her over a period of two years as she copes with her grief and loss and tries to make sense of her experience. Although she speaks from a child’s perspective, she seems much older than her years. She expresses her feelings reluctantly and with difficulty — ‘I lost my mother, my father, my freedom and the life I had…. I know that people don’t appreciate the blessings they have until they lose them…’. But we see into her heart through the drawings that she makes. She shows us her family as it was, and as it is after the attack. She shows us her life as it was, and as it is now. Her sister and brother describe Mona’s trauma and theirs as well, so we see Mona’s story told from the adult perspective.
The film ends with Mona’s hopes for the future, her hopes to be free, her hopes to tell the world about life in Gaza.
While the film visually tells the story of the efforts of Gazans to live and work under conditions of siege, and documents the horrific Israeli military attack, it is also about the struggle of these two women to maintain humanity, humor and hope, and to find some sense of normality in a world that is anything but normal. Through the lens of the camera we see the different sides of Gaza — the border, the lives of farmers and fishermen, the impact of military attack, and the effort to pick up shattered lives and maintain humanity.