History, Land, and The People: Tale of the Three Jewels

Michel Khleifi’s Tale of the Three Jewels recounts the story of Youssef, a twelve year old boy living in a Palestinian refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, and his attempt to woo Aida, a young Gypsy girl. With the help of his best friend Salah, Youssef seeks to retrieve the three jewels that fell out of Aida’s grandmother’s necklace and thus win Aida’s heart. In the film, it is asserted that the jewels represent the three boundaries of the soul: “time, space, and the flesh” (Kennedy). We can also understand these boundaries to be history, land, and the people (ibid).

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In Tale of the Three Jewels, history is recounted by several characters. Youssef’s sister tells him the history of Palestinians when he considers selling a pendant in the shape of the Gaza Strip, and his mother tells of how the Israeli occupation began while she was playing on the beach. Aida’s father tells his daughter and Youssef how his mother lost the jewels from her necklace in a rush to flee Jaffa, not in South America as Aida had thought. Youssef’s blind friend and neighbor tells a story of how his father clung to his family’s land and refused to leave with the rest of the town. By using these characters’ everyday conversations as reflections on the past, the film links the traumatic history of Palestine with the wrongdoing and violence in the present (Gertz and Khleifi, 210).

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The film also utilizes the land to tell the story. Date trees and oranges, symbols of Palestine, are spoken of lovingly (Gertz and Khleifi, 210). Youssef meets Aida at an oasis, and many of his dreams take place here as well, showing the beauty and peace that can be found in harsh landscapes. Youssef wishes to break through the boundaries of the land as he moves through the refugee camp, to the wealthy sheik’s house, to the intermediate Gypsy settlement. He even wishes to cross oceans and get to South America. By letting Youssef wander through a border-free world, Michel Khleifi creates an expansion of national space, but also defines an open area where a love story can unfold regardless of nationality (Gertz and Khleifi, 211).

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Moreover, Tale of the Three Jewels uses people to portray Palestine’s struggle. Specifically, the film focuses on the main character, twelve year old Youssef, and his loss of innocence. Most of the time, Youssef is seen playing and living in a fantasy world. He dreams of traveling to South America to retrieve the three jewels for Aida’s grandmother’s necklace. However, his life is far from a dream world. He is exposed to never ending violence; his brother is in the feda’yeen, who must hide from the Israelis at all times; his father is released from an Israeli prison a broken man; and his mother struggles to come up with a living (Khatib, 127). In the film the audience saw several birds which Youssef had caught and placed in cages. In many ways, Youssef was like his birds. He lived within Israeli imposed gates, behind checkpoints, and in a poor Palestinian refugee in the Gaza strip. Youssef’s real world was far from his enchanted world, and his struggle represented Palestine’s struggle.

The three missing jewels in Aida’s grandmother’s necklace can also referred to as history, land, and the people. The history highlights the present violence and wrongdoings in the country of Palestine, the land promotes an expansion of Palestine’s national space, and the people depict Palestine’s current struggle. However, it is asserted by Khleifi that by uniting the history, land, and the people as seen when Youssef clasps his hands together, Palestine can overcome the Israeli occupation. Youssef realizes in this moment that the three jewels he has been seeking are destined to be in his homeland (Khatib, 128).

By Sarah Dennis and Elisabeth Rockteschel

Work Cited

Gertz, Nurith, and George Khleifi. “The Tale of Three Jewels: Children Living and Dreaming

Amid Violence in Gaza”. Film in the Middle East and North Africa: Creative Dissidence.

Ed. Josef Gugler. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011. 210-211. Web.

Kennedy, Tim. “Great Directors: Michel Khleifi”. Senses of Cinema. Issue 61. Dec. 2011. Web.

Oct. 16. 2014.

Khatib, Lina. Filming the Modern Middle East: Politics in the Cinemas of Hollywood and the

Arab World. London: I. B. Tauris & Co. Ltd, 2006. 127-128. Print.

Tale of the Three Jewels. Dir. Michel Khleifi. Foundation Montecinema Verita, 1995.

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3 thoughts on “History, Land, and The People: Tale of the Three Jewels

  1. To add on to the sentiment of Youseff living in a constant dreamworld, I think the portrayal of the land can add to that idea of fantastical perfection that the main character, and the country, strive for. The landscape, as you described, is filled with lovely depictions, regality, and oasis-like traits. This may be interpreted as a metaphor for the way Palestinians want to view their homeland, as seen through the eyes of little Youseff. He paints a picture so dreamlike of his surroundings, I cannot help but believe that this was the director’s decision to give the audience an idea of what Palestine could be. The overarching dream of freedom from Israel, for independence, and for a world of their own is illustrated through the Palestinian’s boy’s eyes and perception of his country.

  2. In addition, something I found interesting is the parallel that can be drawn between this film by Michel Khleifi and his other work, Wedding in Galilee. In both movies Khleifi uses youthful characters to portray his message of Palestinian oppression. In Wedding in Galilee, the characters desire the perfect wedding day, while in this movie Youssef desires to win a girl’s heart. In reality, what all these character really want is something much more, the security and freedom of a homeland.

  3. Great post on Tale of the Three Jewels that is the first feature ever filmed in the Gaza Strip. This is our second film made by Michel Khleifi. The way how you have analyzed the film in its relation to “history/time,” “land/space,” and “people/flesh” impressed me. The film reminds me of West Beirut, where the story is told through the eyes of kids, and where the male lead, Tarek, falls in love with a beautiful, young girl May during war time. Both films intersect with many aspects, showing us the brutality and level of violence.

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