5 Broken Cameras at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London

One of the most moving films I’ve seen on the Israel-Palestine issue, mainly because of the intensity at which the camera captures human suffering, which is the direct result of brutal ideology in the region. The total disregard for people’s lives and feelings is highly disturbing. I hope many people watch this film, as it shows what is really happening, on a daily basis, in the Occupied Territories.

Originally published in Middle East Monitor

The person in front of me flinches. Someone in the audience cannot even look at the screen, two people are crying. In an act of pure brutality, the camera captures a Palestinian protestor who is pulled to one side by the Israeli army and shot in the leg as a punishment for protesting.

It is moments like these that the two directors – Palestinian Emad Burnat and Israeli Guy Davidi – have captured in their award-winning documentary ‘5 Broken Cameras.’ The product of 700 hours of footage, five years of filming and the five broken cameras, the story follows the villagers of Bil’in, a Palestinian village in the West Bank, Israeli and foreign activists as they protest and resist the Israeli occupation.

In a cruel twist of fate, Burnat’s son Jibril was born on the same day Israeli surveyors arrived in Bil’in to map out the path of the separation wall. The film features Jibril quite heavily, but not in the way Burnat had hoped; originally intended to capture his childhood, the camera still features key moments in his son’s life. But now these moments are when Jibril learns the word for army and cartridge, as he sees family arrested and friends killed by the Israeli forces.

The camera, an important character in the film, once saved Burnat’s life, taking the force of a bullet shot by the Israeli army at 30 metres. “I feel like the camera protects me” Burnat says “but it’s an illusion.” As each camera breaks, from old age or destroyed by settlers unwilling to be filmed, a new episode in the story begins. Burnat always finds a way to replace his camera.

In the aftermath of one of the protests against the separation wall, which has annexed much of Bil’ins arable land, Burnat’s father climbs onto an Israeli military truck, clinging to it and begging them not to take their son Khaled who has been arrested. Night raids by the army pull children out of their homes and bundle them into trucks, for the charge of throwing stones.

As much of Bil’in is farmland, it is disturbing to see Israeli diggers drag olive trees from the ground to make way for the wall, their roots dangling, helpless. The olive trees that are being destroyed are one of the biggest sources of income for Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories. Sadly, in real life, their destruction is nothing new. October is the olive harvest and yet as I write the army and illegal settlers are uprooting more and more trees, some of which were planted by the Romans. They have become a symbol of resistance and the Palestinian struggle, the right to their land.

As he narrates, Burnat’s voice reflects strength, courage and determination. 5 Broken Cameras is a plunge into the realities of life in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank, an absolute must-watch in order to understand the depths of human suffering that are a direct result of scrupulous ideology and policy there. Such brutality with impunity is hard to imagine, and even harder when you comprehend that someone somewhere is authorising all of this.

Written by Amelia Smith

Published in Film Reviews, Palestine and Israel