Monday, 4 March. 2024
Your Key to Palestine
The Palestinian Initiatives for The Promotoion of Global Dialogue and Democracy

The documentary film “Five Broken Cameras” by Bilin resident Emad Burnat has made its way onto the prestigious list of Oscar nominees. The movie, documenting five years of resistance in the West Bank village of Bilin against Israel’s settlement encroachment and separation wall, is a poignant depiction of Palestinian life under occupation.

In short, Burnat – along with his co-director, Israeli peace activist Guy Davidi – created a film about the journey of Burnat’s five cameras, all broken by Israeli forces or settlers, and all replaced to carry on the struggle of documenting his village’s resistance of the separation wall and the ever-growing Israeli settlements on Bilin’s land. It documents the killing of Bassem Abu Rahmeh, or “Al Feel” as he is called by the villagers. Abu Rahmeh was once one of Bilin’s most standout activists, and was fatally shot in the chest with a teargas canister in 2009. It shows how farmers lost their land or must wait hours at an Israeli manned gate to be allowed entry to cultivate and tend to their harvests. And it shows the lives of ordinary Palestinians, all in Burnat’s circle, trying to sustain and survive against terrible odds.

The documentary film has won other awards including the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, with the Oscar nomination its crowning achievement so far. It is the first Palestinian film ever to be nominated for Best Documentary Feature, an honor in and of itself. But even if Five Broken Cameras wins the ‘golden man’, the statue will not be the most rewarding part of the experience.

Palestinian resistance, in all of its forms, has been vilified by Israel and by the western world in general. The Palestinians have been depicted as violent, angry and revengeful people. This film shows, among other things, the life of one real Palestinian trying to do justice to his family, his townspeople and to his country. With its Oscar fame, Five Broken Cameras will reach audiences never reached before, and if successful, will change the way the world perceives Palestinians.

Unsurprisingly, the fact that an Israeli co-directed the film has been a matter of contention for some. Both Burnat and Guy deny that the film is any kind of Palestinian-Israeli collaboration in the political sense, and is more about two ‘comrades-in-arms’ wanting to get a barely-told truth out to the world. Besides, Davidi is a conscientious peace activist who participated in Bilin’s weekly demonstrations against the wall. It is not a story of coexistence; it is the story of Palestine.

The important thing here is that Emad Burnat, who bought his first camera to document the birth and growth of his youngest son, was able to evolve into a talented filmmaker in the service of his country’s resistance against the injustice of Israel’s military occupation of Palestine. The literal and metaphoric breaking of his cameras by Israeli forces is symbolic of the Palestinians’ resilience and determination to carry on in spite of overwhelming odds against them. Eventually, the honesty and candidness of the film has come to be appreciated and acknowledged as quality filmmaking and has already reached the screens of cinemas and homes in a number of places. In one interview, Davidi said he wanted the film to be viewed by Israel’s youth – that generation of youngsters preparing to enter the army, so that they could see how Israel really behaves in the Palestinian territories.

What Burnat most likely wants out of this fame and recognition – besides winning an Oscar – is for ‘Five Broken Cameras’ to touch the minds and hearts of as many people as possible. If it opens the eyes of even a handful of people who have kept them tightly closed to Israel’s occupation of Palestine, it will be a smashing success. Palestinian resistance, unlike the slanderous depiction in the west, is about determination, the love of Palestine and the willingness to sacrifice in the name of a dignified life. It has gained worldwide recognition already; now let’s hope it brings home Hollywood’s biggest prize.

Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at mid@miftah.org.

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