Bitter memories in five cameras

I remember asking for my first camera, but it wasn’t until my second camera that I really began to use it as a medium for expression. In “5 Broken Cameras” a man, Emad Burnat, records his life and the erection of a fence. They say “Good fences good neighbors make,” but this old adage isn’t true in the case of the Palestinian occupied territories.

A farmer, Emad Burnat, has four sons. Each son represents a phase in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. When Gibreel was born, Emad was happy, and prosperous enough to buy a camera. With the camera Burnat recorded things common to every family’s life: kids at school and small events such as a visit by street performers. But he also began to record something more sinister.   One day, Israeli surveyors come to the middle of the orchards, in the middle of many mature olive trees where his father had farmed for years.

Soon mature trees are removed, and a great fence is built. These aren’t unused, unoccupied lands that are being taken, but traditional lands used and enjoyed but stolen. From winter to autumn 2005, the first camera recorded incidents until it was shot out of Burnat’s hand.  Burnat is also wounded. Burnat has no job; no fixed income as he lives off the land–land that is being taken over by the Israelis.

To continue recording, his friend loans him the second camera.  Gibreel grows, but we also witness the kind of world Gibreel is growing up in and the rapid changes in the land. Besides a wall, there are soldiers and new buildings.

Protests, arrests, night raids, gun shots and fear become part of every day life. Each camera records a part of the protests and the continuing loss of civil rights.

This isn’t a pleasant documentary. There are no artsy shots and as the documentary progresses, Burnat command of the medium improves. Yet you don’t get a sense of heavy-handed propaganda, but instead a heartfelt frank account of a young father worried for the future and a son, sadly losing the legacy of his father’s generation.

The land that Burnat depends upon to feed his family and provide for his future is being taken away. Matter-of-factly, he describes the means of occupation and the loss of land. Of the many methods, he states, “Some are illegal according to their own laws.” They can’t keep the settlers from putting down trailers on their stolen land and they can’t put their own trailers on the land. Palestinian trailers are quickly moved, but not those of the Israelis.

This is not a pretty fight and Israel’s position is hard to justify. It shouldn’t matter if the  Palestinians are Arab and might even be Muslim. The villagers understand that what the Israelis are doing wouldn’t be acceptable if both sides were Jewish and Israeli.

If you question Burnat’s understanding of the situation, you might want to view “The Law in These Parts.” Israel and its apologists cannot hide behind the claim of anti-Semitism for much longer. We can’t expect peace in Israel or the Middle East until we come to terms with this and demand justice for the both Palestinians and Isrealis.

Burnat’s camera is a powerful non-violent approach to protest. Directed by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi, who also wrote the script. “5 Broken Cameras” is in Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles.

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