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Three Times Divorced

Distributed by Women Make Movies, 462 Broadway, New York, NY 10013; 212-925-0606
Produced by Timna Goldstein Hattab & Gon
Directed by Ibtisam Salh Mara’ana
DVD, color, 74 min.
Sr. High - Adult
Women's Studies, Law, Middle Eastern Studies, Israeli Law, Palestinian Women

Reviewed by Malcolm L. Rigsby, Department of Sociology, Ouachita Baptist University, Arkadelphia, AR

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
Date Entered: 7/31/2008

This excellent and concise docu-drama by Ibtisam Salh Mara’ana follows the dilemma as experienced and felt by Khitam, a Gaza born Palestinian woman with six children, in a most intimate way. Khitam, a woman whose Israeli Arab husband has divorced her, battles both the religious system and the Israeli government to gain independence from her abusive husband and take control of her children, who are in his possession. Her search for some semblance of recognition by the Sharia legal system as it exists within Israel is bleak. In addition, since her husband never secured an Israeli I.D. for her, she is not recognized by the Israeli government or police. Her plight is excruciatingly enhanced by the lack concern she faces when attempting to seek assistance from the Israeli government.

Khitam’s situation rings home as she attempts to see, possess and hide with her children. Whether it is watching her carefully wrap and pin her hijab before going into public, or watching her visit her children at the school the viewer can empathize with Khitam. Conversely, we can weep with her when finding out that the court has ruled against her, without her being present to present her case, or when listening to her describe her brother brokering her marriage. Consequently the viewer gets a very in-depth and intimate look at a Palestinian woman’s life in Israel. Things become too real when she is attacked and injured by her knife-welding husband Makbul.

This film provides a vivid contrast between social issues and legal rights of Palestinian women and Americans. In the first scene, Khitam is being driven near the place where her children are and as she catches a glimpse tears come to her eyes. She is after all a parent and as a parent, she pains over the absence of her children. Yet when it comes to seeking an order of the Sharia allowing her to have her children she is time and time again denied the opportunity. The viewer is quickly enabled to see that in the judicial system of the Sharia women do not have many procedural protections that exist for women in the United States.

As the film describes, approximately 90 percent of divorced Palestinian women lose the custody of their children after a divorce. Under the Palestinian system, the husband may revocably divorce his wife by announcing three times that he divorces her. Each time she must leave the home. The divorce may become permanent after the third announcement of divorce. The wife has little to say about the matter. Under the paternal system, children usually are awarded to the father’s custody. Khitam’s plight is heightened since she does not hold a valid Israeli I.D. card. As a result, she cannot obtain financial support or the assistance of a long-term safe house.

This is an extremely well shot docu-drama. Audio, video, and editing are wonderful. Perhaps the best shot scene, at least most touching, is the teacher who tearfully and without a word watches Khitam hug and visit with her children at the school. The producer and director have obviously worked well together to ensure that individual identities are protected, yet the relationship we in the audience can build with Khitam paints a fabulous portrait of the ups and downs of her days. In the end, we can share her strength, devotion and decision to keep fighting for her beliefs. Three Times Divorced is highly recommended for classes interested in social and gender relations as well as legal systems dealing with rights between men and women. Political science professors may use this film to demonstrate religious/social constraints upon law and social order.

Excellent opportunity is provided to discuss several issues in class or discussion:

  1. Legal process and procedural law in the United States and compare with the experiences of Khitam.
  2. Stigma attached to divorce in the United States and as faced by Khitam, especially in the police department and in the court.
  3. Should protection of parent and child rights be procedural?
  4. Cultural taboos and norms for selecting a mate for marriage.
  5. Domestic violence law in the United States and in other parts of the world.


  • Doc Aviv Film Festival, Best Israeli Documentary
  • FIPA Biarritz, FIPA D’Argent Special Prize