The documentary that should make every decent Israeli ashamed
No moments of reprieve in the probing documentary by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi, “5 Broken Cameras,” which chronicles the struggle in the West Bank Palestinian village of Bil’in.
The soldiers arrive in the dead of night. They kick, they smash, they destroy. They break in, rudely awakening an entire house and its inhabitants, including children and babies. One officer pulls out a detailed document and declares: “This house is declared a ‘closed military zone.'” He reads the order – in Hebrew and in a loud voice – to the sleep-dazed, pajama-clad family.
This young man successfully completed his officers’ training course. Perhaps he even believes, deep down, that someone has to do this dirty work. And he reads out the order solely to justify why the father of the household, Emad Burnat, is forbidden to film the event on his own video camera.
There are no moments of respite or reprieve in the probing documentary by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi, “5 Broken Cameras,” which was screened, among other places, at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque last weekend after collecting a number of international prizes and having been shown on Channel 8.
This documentary should make every decent Israeli ashamed of being an Israeli. It should be shown in civics classes and heritage classes. The Israelis should know, at long last, what is being done in their name every day and every night in this ostensible time of no terror. Even in a West Bank village like Bil’in, which has made nonviolence its motto.
The soldiers – the friends of our sons and the sons of our friends – break into homes in order to abduct small children, who may be suspected of throwing stones. There is no other way to describe this. They also arrest dozens of the organizers of the popular weekly protest at Bil’in. And this happens every night.
I have often been to this village, to its protests and to its funerals. Once or twice I joined the Friday demonstrations against the separation fence that was built on its land to enable Modi’in Ilit and Kiryat Sefer to rise on its olive groves. I have breathed the tear gas and the stinking “skunk” gas. I have seen the rubber bullets that wound and sometimes kill, and the violent behavior of the soldiers and the police toward the demonstrating inhabitants.
Yet nevertheless, what I saw in this film shocked me more than all those hasty visits. The apartment buildings of Modi’in Ilit are swallowing up the village, just like the wall that was built here on their land. The inhabitants decided to embark on a struggle for their property and their existence. With a mixture of naivete, determination and courage – and, now and then, some exaggerated theatricality – the residents undertake various gimmicks, with the help of a handful of Israeli and international volunteers.
This struggle has even won a partial victory: Only in its wake did the High Court of Justice order the dismantling of the wall and its relocation to a different place. Even the High Court, which usually automatically accepts the positions of the security establishment, understood that a crime was being committed here. Together with Bil’in and, to a large extent, inspired by it, more villages began to conduct a determined popular struggle every Friday – which continues to this day – against the wall, half an hour’s drive from our homes.
This documentary proves that, for the locals, the reality of the occupation is that there is no such thing as nonviolent struggle. For the information of those who preach nonviolence (from the Palestinians ): The Israel Defense Forces soldiers and the Border Police will ensure that it becomes violent. Just one thrown stone, despite the pleas of the demonstration organizers, will suffice; just one verbal altercation will also suffice to open the most advanced weapons arsenal in the world – to pull the pin, to release the gas, the rubber bullet and the skunk gas, and sometimes the live fire, and to cut off the impossible dream of a nonviolent struggle.
Anyone who watches this film understands that it is very difficult to face the wall, the settlement project and the soldiers – all of which scream “violence” – and remain nonviolent. Nearly impossible.
Five times Burnat’s cameras were destroyed. Three times by the soldiers, once in a traffic accident opposite the separation wall, and once by the ultra-Orthodox and violent settlers – the “hilltop youth,” who break into homes even when the court prohibits this. “You are not allowed to be here,” says an ultra-Orthodox settler to a villager trying to get to his stolen land.
The truth is that Burnat’s cameras were damaged many more times; the film depicts only those incidents in which the equipment was rendered totally unusable. The cameras’ ruined parts are displayed as evidence.
But something much deeper has been broken here. A reality has been broken by broken cameras. These cameras documented a reality unfamiliar to most Israelis. They documented a slice of life, about which most Israelis prefer to be oblivious. In so doing, they have also proved that, in a place where hardly any courageous journalism remains, there are at least courageous and impressive documentaries. In a place where hardly any journalists remain, there are important documentary filmmakers like Burnat and Davidi.
After the vast majority of the local media decided not to report on the occupation any more, films like “5 Broken Cameras,” Ra’anan Alexandrowicz’s “The Law in These Parts,” and Mir Laufer and Erez Laufer’s “One Day After Peace” – all the harvest of just the past few months – are filling the role intended for the media, and excellently.
Anyone who some day wants to learn what was happening here during these cursed decades will hardly find what he is looking for in the newspaper and television archives. He will find it in the documentary movie archive, which is rescuing Israel’s honor.
“5 Broken Cameras” has already been shown in many countries, at festivals and commercial screenings. Davidi and Burnat documented the routine of the occupation. The IDF and Border Police come out looking bad. Even understatement and restraint cannot but describe them except as storm troopers.
Burnat’s voice, which accompanies the film, is one of the most restrained voices you have heard concerning the occupation, without rabble-rousing and without hatred. This is how they look in reality. Go see this film and form your own impressions.
There have been other films about Bil’in and while this one is relatively small scale, it is extremely personal. Burnat’s wife, who wants to keep him away from the camera and danger, and his young son, who has grown up in this reality, star in it along with the leaders of the struggle. There is only one person killed here: Bassem Abu-Rahma, a charming young man, loved by the children, who called him the Elephant – the needless victim of an alleged murder by a soldier in April 2009.
However, it is the non-deadly routine depicted in the movie that is so appalling. The camera breakers in it are breakers of the rule of law and of democracy. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has boasted to the world about how enlightened Israel is, apparently has not seen this film. Otherwise, he would not be able to talk about enlightenment.
Anyone who behaves this way in his dark backyard cannot boast about what happens in his enlightened show window, with all that high tech and democracy. Anyone who knows what is happening in Bil’in and the other villages understands that a state that behaves in this way cannot be considered democratic or enlightened. Someone has to make Netanyahu watch this film, just so he will understand. .
This week I drove to Bil’in with one of the two directors, Guy Davidi (Burnat was away on another trip overseas ). Davidi once lived in the village for several months, but prior to our trip hadn’t visited for over a year.
Ostensibly, nothing had changed. A Palestinian village drowsing in the afternoon. However, one thing was different: A large hill planted with olive trees has been liberated. In the place where the security fence had been, there is now only a dirt track. The barrier was removed and the hill was returned to its owners. The olive trees are dying after years of neglect, and the soil is scarred by all the earthworks carried out there. But still, some of the territory has been liberated.
The security fence has been replaced by a high concrete wall, but this has been moved several hundred meters to the west. Behind it, cranes continue to build Kiryat Sefer (aka Dvir ). In the liberated territory, they are already building a tiny playground for the village children. Only remnants of the burned tires and dozens of IDF gas-canister shells lying on the ground from the ongoing weekly demonstrations here testify that the struggle has not ended. It has not been completely successful. But if there were any justice, it would have been.