5 Broken Cameras
By Brendan Cheney With on January 25, 2012

5 Broken Cameras is a brilliant film, a documentary begun with no purpose other than to capture the events in a small Palestinian village called Bil'in. The director, Emad, purchased a video camera to film his youngest son's development but quickly begins to record a passive resistance uprising within his home. Israel is moving further into Palestinian land and building complexes for what are termed "settlers," Israelis who are looking for homes in which to live. The title comes from the events over the course of five years in which his camera is destroyed five times, forcing him to purchase a new one. On two occasions, the camera is destroyed by gunfire, likely saving his life both times. I loved this documentary because it seemed the most honest of many films I've seen. Very often, filmmakers set out with a purpose in mind to communicate with their footage. Not so Emad. He filmed hundreds of hours of footage for several years before realizing what he had on his hands. He presents what seems to me to be an incredibly unbiased view of what occurs in his village. One of my favorite moments comes in a time of despair for Bil'in. They are attempting to regain their land and getting nowhere in their resistance; meanwhile, many of them have been injured and killed by Israeli soldiers. Emad arranges a screening of his footage within his village and his narration indicates that this unites them and draws them closer. I found this a profound statement about the nature of film as a shared experience. Certainly they were particularly drawn to it because it is a narrative of their own home, but I think there is something to be said for how film connects us. There was a facet of this film that I found intriguing. It appears to me that Emad, while taking on the role of documenter, uses his camera to insulate himself from the harsh reality surrounding him. Of course, he is vitally present in it, coming close to death on multiple occasions. But I wonder whether or not his camera was the thing that gave him the hope to carry on. While this film has potential to be very political, I think it is worth watching. Regardless of your opinion of the political situation between Israel and Palestine and whose land it is, watching this movie will enrage you when you see the deep injustice of how they are treated. As my friend says, I don't want to be pro-Israel or pro-Palestine, I want to be pro-people. This film should shock you into movement on behalf of the oppressed. Absolutely find a way to see this one.

About the Author: Brendan Cheney

6 Responses to "5 Broken Cameras"

  1. I don’t really have any clue where to begin when posting about this film. This might have been the most powerful film I have ever seen or witnessed in my life. The images that flashed before my eyes split the hairs on my neck and shattered the brain cells within my cranium. It evoked emotions of anger, action, justice, sadness, abandonment, and joy, a full spectrum of appeals. Most of all, the film evoked an emotion of guilt. The movie was true to its objective nature in displaying the events and actions of this small village in Palestine. I don’t think that the director had a strong agenda in making this movie. He simply wanted to film the events that were occurring around him, to his family, and with his friends. I felt privileged to be able to sit and get a glimpse into the life of this man and his family in such a volatile and hostile area. I also felt privileged to hear this man’s story, because with his film and the power of film, I don’t believe I or anyone else in Utah would ever have heard of this incredible brave and justice filled movie. It’s easy to never pay attention to events like this is the news or media, yet a through the medium of film we get a power glimpse.
    Additionally, I think it’s easy to forget how posh our lifestyle can be in America. For example, during the film a man name “Phil” gets shot during the year 2008. I couldn’t help but think while these men were fighting for what they thought to be acts of injustice for 5 years and currently more, I was just a senior in college watching Monday night Football and eating potato chips. So as I mentioned above, emotions of guilt flooded by heart and spirit. I felt guilty for my lifestyle, for my conditions, I even felt guilty for things that were out of my control, such as being born in Boulder Co. I think as I continue this week in watching films I’m going to have to wrestle with these feelings of guilt in the face of injustice. It’s amazing how much film can bring your heart to contemplate it’s emotions! 

    by Wesley Schooler on Jan 31st, 2012 at 11:48 am
  2. Pro-Israel! Pro-Palestine! In the midst of this political debate in the United States, we often forget that actual human lives have been and continue to be lost in the Middle East because of this issue. For the communities, this is more than just an exercise in political theory. And as a resident of the small, agricultural village of Bil’in, Emad (the director) was in the trenches. He used handheld cameras to capture hundreds of hours of footage that was incredibly moving and extremely disturbing. This documentary, rather than explicit propaganda for either side of the “debate”, is the culmination of being a witness to years of oppression.

    Illegal Israeli settlements have divided the region practically in half, separating Bil’in from the small number of olive trees that is the primary source of survival. In response to the militarization of this zone, the citizens of Bil’in decide to strike up a nonviolent protest against the settlements. Israel’s response to is to build a wall. The citizens of Bil’in march against the construction of the wall. In turn, Israeli soldiers use “non-fatal” force (e.g., physical beatings to rubber bullets to tear gas) to break up protests. Emad tapes this back-and-forth for years and inevitably the violence escalates. Incredibly, both adults and children alike are arrested. Not only are people being arrested, but Emad’s footage also captures the death of his friends.

    One of the most disturbing scenes is when Emad’s friend, who is almost childlike and carefree, is beaten down not by soldiers, but by Israeli citizens for protesting the illegal settlements. How can citizens react in this manner, especially for a group of people who have undergone similar kinds of atrocities?

    The film doesn’t end on a happy note, but rather the situation is presented as is. Sure, the wall is eventually broken down, but the settlements continue in other areas. Peace talks continually break down. Terrorist attacks continue killing people. So the reaction of Israeli soldiers in this documentary is somewhat understandable. As citizen-soldiers, fearing for their safety and the safety of their unit, in the face of an angry mob, how else can they react? Decisions are made in the upper echelons of government and these policies trickle down, affecting and sometimes destroying real lives. Emad’s documentary is not about a solution to the problem. Rather, it shows us the harsh realities of what is happening on the ground in this Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It humanizes the sides of this conflict and that can be just as powerful.

    by Justin Lee on Jan 31st, 2012 at 4:11 pm
  3. Five Broken Cameras was a difficult film in many respects, not the least of which is its perspective. That perspective belongs to the inhabitants of the small Palestinian village of Bil’in, situated directly on the border between Israel and Palestine, a border that is in constant flux. During the length of the film we witnessed the encroachment of the Israeli developments on that border, its visible location established by a wall, and eventually that wall’s removal and the border’s return to its original location.
    Technically, the film maintained a very visceral, home movie feel. The cameras used were of a common variety, and while each successive camera was superior to its predecessor, the editing maintained the feeling of authenticity captured by such equipment.
    The plot developed naturally, if also predictably. Whether this observation carries any connotations or not is an interesting question considering the genre of the film (documentary). To tell a factual story that is so easily anticipated may call into question its authenticity, or, it may give credence to the depictions contained within the film, in that it is a story we have heard before because it has happened often. Either way, it is a point of total conjecture.
    The overarching context of the film is of equally dizzying proportions. The historical context of millennia of anti Semitism lends sympathy to the Israeli cause, particularly in the last 7 or so decades since the Second World War and it’s holocaust. Further complicating the issue for Americans is our support of Israel in its fight for a country and freedom. This support, particularly in the conservative evangelical community, is further entrenched in the biblical promise of restoration to Israel in the form of land and peace.
          Within this broader context the particulars are equally confusing. During the period of filming my roommate was in the area on the Israeli side of the wall and survived a number of rocket attacks from the Palestinian side of the wall. Knowing that, I feel a sense of sympathy for the Israeli soldiers, who, while Bil’in may not have been engaged in violent protest, were potentially facing armed opposition from just kilometers away from Bil’in. If they were patrolling a larger section of the wall, coming under fire from one town, the instinct of self-preservation would invariably lead them to be more wary in another, even if the second town was a non-violent community. This is offered not as an excuse for the soldiers, but as an attempt to gain an understanding of their plight.
          So then, we see that the issue portrayed in the film is an extremely complex one, particularly for Christians. However, this does not change the solution to the problem, which I do not claim to know how to accomplish, but which clearly involves a renewed initiative for peaceful resolution of the conflict and a willingness to co-exist between the Israeli’s and Palestinians. I don’t know how this is possible, but I pray that God does, and that He will eventually make things right.


    Having “fallen” into filmmaking unintentionally, Emad is a Palestinian who originally set out to document the life of his family and the birth of his fourth son, Gibreel. The day Gibreel was born, the Israelis cut through their tiny village of Bil’in, tearing through their land and crops of age-old olive trees, creating a territorial divide in order to construct Israeli encampments. From the villagers protests over the barrier to Gibreel learning to walk, speak and attend his first protest (around age 3!), this documentary simultaneously captures the first fives years of Gibreel’s life as it is contrasted against the plight of the Palestinian people against their impenetrable neighbors.

    Over the course of those five years, five of Emad’s cameras are broken or destroyed filming the protests, which becomes the title of the documentary. Each seems to capture a segment of time which helps propel the film forward in its narrative of his family and the development in the territorial dispute. The film chronicles these two seemingly separate activities, Gibreel’s childhood and the territorial protests, which soon collide into one topic and begin to erode his family’s safety and well being.

    His closest friends are occasionally captured for weeks at a time, and a couple are eventually shot and killed during the protests. In spite of it all, Emad narrates the documentary with almost an eerily steady and non-emotional tone. Emad is eventually captured at one point for his activity filming the protests and questioned for several days. Later, in a climactic moment of frustration and desperation to have the wall removed, Emad drives his truck into the barrier, almost killing himself. He is hospitalized in Israel for many weeks, his life salvaged only because the doctors and facilities in Israel are better than in his native Palestine, and they are able to save his life.

    I never expected this film to affect me as much as it did. About halfway through the film during one of the protests at the barrier when the Israeli army opened fire and an excessive amount of tear gas flooded a crowd of unarmed Palestinians, the floodgate of my heart opened and I could not help but sob over the iniquity and injustice of the situation.

    Perhaps this film affected me more than another viewer because I am part Palestinian. My father was born in Jaffa (now Tel Aviv) and raised in Palestine until his family was forced to leave the hotel they owned and managed as a result of the Israeli occupation in the 1940s. Until the age of ten, my dad and his family lived amidst the daily activities of air raid sirens, bombs and shootings in the area, and curfews forbidding Palestinians to enter occupied areas at certain times. While my dad never raised us with any anger or resentment towards any ethnic group, it was near impossible for me during this screening to separate out my father’s personal experience from Emad’s and I began to feel a deep hatred well up from deep within me that I never felt before over the injustice of an oppressed people who seem to have no advocate. The feeling of anger scared and saddened me and left me questioning the purpose of this film in a greater context, other than to show the atrocities of a powerful group oppressing a less powerful neighbor.

    The visual horror of the Israelis with their impermeable tanks, gates, weapons and uniforms against the impoverished Palestinians with their sticks, rocks, toys and childlike sense of humor was too much for me to bear.

    The most obvious thing I took away was exactly what Ecclesiastes speaks of: the beauty and fragility of life. The Palestinian people feel they have nothing to lose and continue their fight for their land and independence in an endless cycle of near hopeless desperation. Their land means everything to them. The land houses their families, gives them food, provides an economical resource in its olive trees, and is intertwined with their identity.

    The film also struck me in its larger social construct of barriers. From the physical barriers we create to block out our neighbors (or anything foreign to us), to the smaller barriers we construct in relationships that divide us, to the very barriers we erect internally walling ourselves off from living life more fully, it left me pondering what barriers I have constructed in my own life that may need to be torn down. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts.”

    The most intriguing response during the Q&A was that one of our Fuller students inquired as to how Emad’s relationship with God was and if it had changed over the course of the protests. Emad was clearly confused by the question and thought she was asking about the relationship between him and his Israeli filmmaking partner. The question was clarified and yet he still could not answer because for him, God had nothing to do with their plight and it never crossed his mind to blame God, as we are so quick to do in the American culture. I found that so incredibly fascinating that as Americans, we are so apt to turn the camera back on ourselves and lament what God is (or isn’t) doing to us and thereby blaming Him instead of turning our focus externally and realizing that sometimes life just is.

    Emad said in his film that he films “to heal”. I look at this film and the grave injustices that are occurring on that side of the world and wonder how possibly those people can receive healing. Then it occurred to me. In their love for God and their love for one another they will be made whole. While they may never know political peace, they can be offered a peace that can extend beyond all human understanding. That is my wish for the Palestinian people.

    by Tamara Khalaf on Feb 5th, 2012 at 5:16 pm
  5. This is one of the few films that make me cry and very emotional attached. I deeply appreciate the director risking his life and his 6 cameras to give us a perspective of life being persecuted and oppressed. I heard so much news about Palestinian and Israel conflict for years. News may broadcast ten to twenty second clips from time to time. This 2 hours film connect many dots with clear chronological timeline and help me really focus on this subject intensively.
    Originally, the camera is nothing more than a family video for one of the director’s newborn son home video. With the turmoil of his village, the footage was shifted heavily to the conflict. But, we still saw the growth of his newborn son under the shadow of this twisted world. His son playground are full of bullet shells and tear gas cans. The first word that he learned is all related to the war like grenade. Expectation of his father for him is to grow thicker on his tougher and see this conflict with his naked eyes. His son asked, “why not use a knife to kill the solider?”  The children were organized to protest and get arrested. I am heartbroken for the child of that land.

    by Samuel Lee on Feb 5th, 2012 at 10:51 pm
  6. It is difficult to write about this film because it was so intense. Emad Burnat, a Palestinian farmer, buys his first camera to capture his fourth son’s first moments. The next four cameras are destroyed and purchased as the boy grows older in the middle of a bloody conflict over land. The fact that people are killed in this conflict is startling because Bil’in is nonviolent in their protests. The entire film consists of a back and forth between the Israeli soldiers and the Palestinian villagers. The soldiers build a wall and the villagers tear it down. The villagers protest, and the soldiers set their olive trees on fire. The children of the villagers get involved, and the soldiers arrest them, taking them from their families at night. Of all the violence and the hatred that you see in the conflict, the most unsettling moment was when Gibreel, just barely old enough to speak, asks his father why he does not simply stab the soldiers with a knife in retaliation. It is like you can physically see the hatred growing in the little boy. What will become of this boy’s generation? The one that watches as people are killed and nonviolent protests seemingly ineffective? This boy is simply trying to make sense of the world in which his uncles are arrested and his friends are murdered. And if you watch what is captured in these five cameras broken in conflict, you would not blame him for choosing violence when it is his time to push back.

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