5 Broken Cameras
Review by Dr Mark Zirnsak
5 Broken Cameras is a powerful and very moving documentary capturing the complexity of the conflict in Israel-Palestine. The story is told from the viewpoint of Palestinian farmer Emad Burnat. The Separation Barrier is being built by the Israeli Government near his village Bil’in, which would cut the villagers off from much of their farming land.
Despite facing violence from Israeli settlers, who seek to seize the land of the Palestinians, the people protest. In some of the most confronting scenes of the documentary, non-violent attempts to resist the land-grabbing efforts are met with violence and beatings by the settlers involved. They smash one of Burnat’s cameras to avoid the full incident being captured on film.
The title of the film refers to the five cameras that are smashed by settlers or shot by Israeli security forces during a five-year period.
The Palestinians from Bil’in continue a largely non-violent struggle throughout the documentary (although some engage in stone-throwing), despite a number of them being shot and, in one case, killed by Israeli soldiers assigned to guard the construction of the Separation Barrier.
Burnat’s first camera was purchased in 2005 to record the birth of his fourth son, Gibreel.
The documentary follows his family’s life throughout five years of village turmoil. Burnat watches from behind the lens as olive trees are bulldozed, protests intensify, and lives are lost.
“I feel like the camera protects me,” he says, “but it’s an illusion.”
The viewer is stunned by the risks Israeli soldiers are willing to take with other people’s lives when shooting to destroy the cameras while they are filming.
The documentary also captures some of the personal and very human dimensions of the conflict.
Burnat’s spouse, Soraya, wants him to give up his filming as she fears it will lead to his imprisonment. She worries about how she and their children will survive.
There is a particularly moving scene where Gibreel hands a sprig from a bulldozed olive tree to an Israeli soldier, which is none the worse for being staged.
The documentary highlights the need for the respect of basic rights if a lasting peace is to be achieved and gives an insight into how conflicts can be self-perpetuating.
No doubt there will be critics who claim this film is biased and fails to tell the story of the whole conflict. However, the film does not seek to demonise Israelis.
There are Israeli peace activists who join in the protests with the Palestinian villagers. When Emad has a car accident, it is an Israeli hospital and Israeli doctors that provide life-saving treatment.
5 Broken Cameras won a 2012 Sundance Film Festival award, it won the Golden Apricot at the 2012 Yerevan International Film Festival, Armenia, for Best Documentary Film, and was nominated for a 2012 Academy Award.
The film would be highly suitable for congregations wishing to explore a Christian response to armed conflict or looking to join with Palestinian churches calling for support from other churches around the world to address injustice.