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Saturday, April 19, 2014

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Film documents flashpoint in Arab-Israeli dispute

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Israeli soldiers face Palestinian demonstrators in Bil’in, which is cut off from its olive groves by Israel’s security barrier.

Since 2005, the Palestinian village of Bil'in, a bedroom suburb of Ramallah four kilometres east of the old Green Line, has been the venue of weekly demonstrations to protest the construction of Israel's security barrier, much of which cuts into the West Bank and physically divides Arab communities.

The villagers, mostly farmers who tend mature olive tree groves, oppose the fence because it separates them from nearly two-thirds of their agricultural fields and signals an intention by Israel to seize yet more of their lands.

Typically, the residents, backed by Israeli and international peace activists, have marched to the barrier to disrupt work on it, prompting intervention by the Israeli army. In these clashes, two Palestinians have been killed and many more have been injured.

Emad Burnat, a Palestinian born in Bil'in, has been recording these events with video cameras for the past seven years. Drawing on more than 700 hours of this footage, he and Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi have produced a jolting 90-minute documentary, 5 Broken Cameras, which opens June 22 at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto.

The title is a reference to the number of Burnat's cameras that have been rendered inoperable by violence as he has documented these developments.

Burnat bought his first video camera to film his new-born son, Jibril, but after Bil'in was divided by the route of the barrier, he began focusing on the troubles that the barrier brought to the village.

Being a highly personal and subjective film, 5 Broken Cameras addresses the issue from a purely Palestinian perspective, concentrating on the confrontations that have pitted the villagers against Israeli troops, on the one hand, and the bitter verbal exchanges that have erupted between Palestinians and Jewish settlers, on the other.

Beyond these ugly outbursts, it deals with the role that Israel's Supreme Court has played in this ongoing struggle and conveys the Palestinians' deep attachment to their land.

The film, however, is flawed.

No mention is made of the fact that Israel's decision to build the barrier was directly motivated by a spate of Palestinian suicide bombings from 2001 onwards that virtually traumatized Israel.

And although Bil'in is widely regarded as a model of non-violent Palestinian resistance to the barrier, which has been deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice, 5 Broken Cameras all but ignores Palestinian stone-throwing incidents that have injured Israeli soldiers.

Although the film does not dwell on the complexities of the Arab-Israeli dispute and therefore lacks evenhandedness, it underscores the bitterness that lies at the core of this enduring and seemingly intractable conflict.


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