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Laramie Movie Scope:
5 Broken Cameras

Palestinian farmer records conflict with Israelis

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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(2013, Hebrew and Arabic) Following the birth of his fourth and youngest son Gibreel in 2005, Emad Burnat, a Palestinian falah with olive trees, bought a video camera, the first of six to record his family and events in the village of Bil'in, just inside the West Bank. Over the next five years, five of those cameras will be broken - "Every camera an episode in my life" - during incidents related to demonstrations against a separation barrier the Israelis erect while taking land belonging to the Palestinians and constructing new settlements for Israelis.

Directing with Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi, Emad, who says he hoped capturing images would have some meaning, also narrates this documentary. Filming the nonviolently protesting on Fridays - "No to fence" - of the theft of their land that "feeds and connects us," Emad shows his best friends El-Phil ("the elephant") and Adeeb, questioning the soldiers about their immoral motivations ("Have you no heart or families?"), leading and sustaining morale for the demonstrators, who eventually include Israeli activists and international participants in a popular resistance.

The first camera is broken when struck by a tear-gas grenade. With a second camera, Emad watches Gileeb as he learns to speak; Gileeb sees with is own eyes his father, uncles, and others he knows arrested - "We're not doing anything wrong" - leaving an indelible impression of "new wounds on top of old wounds."

As the land is illegally confiscated from the Palestinians, the people of Bil'in attempt to use the same laws and tactics against the Israelis in "an endless cycle" of outposts erected, destroyed, and rebuilt on the other side of the barrier. The settlers retaliate by burning the olive trees. The second camera was broken in the spring of 2007.

Attempting to break the will of the Palestinians, Israeli soldiers entered Bil'in at night and removed children. With the encroaching Closed Military Zone swallowing up more territory, Emad's property also became subject to an edict ordering evacuation from his own home; he was jailed and then confined to house arrest in another dwelling.

His third camera saved his life from a bullet in the winter of 2008. By publicly screening his videos, other villages began to join Bil'in's protest. Firing live ammunition at the demonstrators, Israeli soldiers and snipers dealt death, killing someone in Nil'in followed by eleven-year-old and 17-year-old boys.

In a legal decision an Israeli court declares a portion of the barrier must be dismantled, but a year later nothing has been removed. When his truck crashes into the barrier (unclear how this occurred), Emad is taken to a hospital in Tel Aviv with life-threatening injuries (unconscious for 20 days); his fourth camera didn't survive the collision.

Months later he returned to Bil'in with sutures running the length of his torso and abdomen, instructions not to perform any physical labor, and medical bills; he was greeted by grime news of the Israeli attack on Gaza.

Daba hangs posters of his martyred brother. "What did we do to them?" Gibeel asks his father after his friend's death, wanting to know why his father and others refrain from retaliation as hate and anger fester in the younger generation. Worried about the fate of the family, Soraya, supportive until Emad is faced with another warrant for his arrest, says to her husband: "Enough with the filming."

In the spring of 2010 his fifth camera takes a bullet. A small victory of concession after five years of protests permits the small village to celebrate.

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Copyright © 2013 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

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