New film documents struggle of West Bank village

New film documents struggle of West Bank village

Guy Davidi (left) with Emad Burnat

My new Forward “Arty Semite” article is about an Israeli filmmaker (Guy Davidi) whose collaboration with a Palestinian cameraman (Emad Burnat) has recreated the latter’s compelling story.  Together, they have made a masterful film of the non-violent struggle of the West Bank village of Bil’in against encroachments on its land.  (You can see A.O. Scott’s NY Times review here; we were in the audience together with a handful of others at a special screening last week.)

Burnat is injured in the course of the more than five-year struggle, as is a favorite relative—a remarkably sympathetic figure as he repeatedly appeals in polite Hebrew to the conscience of the Israeli soldiers lined up against him in full battlegear.  Another charismatic villager is killed by
a gas grenade striking his chest, while a third is shot at pointblank range, on the order of an officer, despite the fact that he is already in their hands.  Shockingly, we see the soldier raise his rifle and fire at the Palestinian, a mere foot or two away.  Davidi told me during our Skype conversation that this incident created a stir when the video was distributed on the Internet.  The officer admitted wrong-doing, was reprimanded and understood to lose a promotion as a result, but neither he nor the actual shooter suffered anything more severe.  Happily, the Palestinian survived his wound relatively intact. 

To my surprise, Davidi had not yet seen “Budrus,” also a fine film made a few years ago of a similarly heroic non-violent struggle by Palestinians and their Israeli and international allies to defend their property. (Both village struggles culminate in a partial victory, with an Israeli supreme court-ordered rollback of part of the fence.) “Budrus” frames that struggle explicitly within the context of Israel building its security barrier as a reaction to the bloody suicide attacks of the Second Intifada.  It also humanizes the Israeli soldiers by focusing upon at least one of them, a young woman, as a character.

But “5 Broken Cameras” is propelled by a different artistic premise, which doesn’t permit this kind of framing; it is driven by an inside view, with Burnat’s narrative voice and his (five) cameras’ eyes.  But Israelis as such are not depicted badly; their Israeli allies (one of whom, an older gentleman, is also injured) are obviously viewed as good (including Michael Sfard, their Israeli attorney).  All in all, given the indignities they suffer through (especially from the militant religious settlers, who seem quite nasty), it’s remarkable that the Palestinians retain their non-violent discipline.

By | 2012-05-30T14:07:00-04:00 May 30th, 2012|Blog|3 Comments


  1. Anonymous May 30, 2012 at 7:19 am - Reply

    Thanks for posting on this film.


  2. Gil June 13, 2012 at 3:55 am - Reply

    I disagree with the assertion that “Israelis as such are not depicted badly.” With exception of the one sympathetic Israeli, Yisrael, who is wounded during one of the demonstrations, I think the Israelis, almost of all of whom were soldiers, were depicted pretty badly, though perhaps not “as such.” And given their unrelenting assaults on peaceful demonstrators over five years, with tear gas, rubber-coated bullets, and clubs, they deserve to be depicted badly, though it would have given some “balance” if Burnat had been able to extract some expression of remorse of regret from at least one of them.

  3. Ralph Seliger June 13, 2012 at 10:41 am - Reply

    This is a small point of contention. Gil is understandably being emotional. There’s no doubt that most Israelis look bad here, and as soldiers and militant settlers, deserve to look bad.

    But we agree that Israelis do not come off badly “as such.” Aside from the warm-hearted Yisrael, there’s the Israeli lawyer who advocates for the villagers in the courts and the other Israelis (not depicted by name) who demonstrate for Bil’in.

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