J Street U Screens “5 Broken Cameras”

By Miguel Espinosa, Staff Writer

Students and faculty gathered to watch the documentary “5 Broken Cameras” in Bicentennial Hall on the evening of May 4. “5 Broken Cameras” covers the conflict between Israel and Palestine from the perspective of a Palestinian villager living on the West Bank border. The screening was presented by the political and activist organization, J Street U Middlebury.

Stated on their homepage, the organization’s mission is “to educate, advocate and discuss along the lines of the ‘pro-Israel, pro-peace’ agenda for peace, security and social justice in Israel, the future state of Palestine and across the Middle East.” J Street U supports Israel’s right to exist and “advocates” a two-state solution for peace. The students organizing the screening believe that “5 Broken Cameras” advances discussion about security and justice within the troubled region. A formal discussion was held afterward to allow reactions and to explore criticisms of the film.

Filmed by Palestinian farmer Emad Burnat, ‘5 Broken Cameras” takes place in Bil’in, a Palestinian Village. The documentary, over the course of six years, undergoes two narratives intertwined with one another.

The first involves the installment of barriers between the Palestinian village and Israeli settlements, which takes away Bil’in residents’ farmland, and was met by protests. The second narrative pays attention to Burnat’s family, and how they cope with increasing uncertainty about their village’s future. The title refers to how five different cameras were used and destroyed during Burnat’s documentation of the conflict in Bil’in. Each camera encapsulates distinct periods during the conflict.

Distressing and light moments unfold throughout the documentary, and at times, engage one another ironically. At the beginning, we encounter Phil, a family friend of Burnat, and his playful personality with children. His kind and lighthearted nature forges his bond with Burnat’s youngest son, Gibreel. Unfortunately, Phil’s death is captured by camera as he is struck by a pellet, leaving the entire village in mourning.

Other moments include retaliating against land hoarding by Israeli construction companies; Burnat insists that these companies steal land by planting trailers in unauthorized areas. To retaliate, the villagers plant their own trailer in such an area. When it is removed, the villagers plant another one, eventually locking themselves inside.

Chaos ensues when the protesters clash with Israeli soldiers. Furthermore, since Burnat’s hundreds of hours of footage are condensed into a 90 minute film, one might be given the illusion that violent clashes happen frequently. Most of these times, soldiers fire into protester crowds with plastic bullets and gas grenades, leaving a handful of people bloodied. Among the crowds aren’t just Palestinians, but Israelis sympathetic to their struggle.

Additionally, we witness the burden the conflict places on Burnat’s family. They are forced to move, after being told by Israeli forces that their residence has been declared a “closed military zone.”

His brothers are arrested on several occasions. One of them results in an unforgettable scene where Burnat’s parents struggle with the soldiers, and the father takes resistance further by sitting a transport’s windshield. The darkest turn occurs after the youngest son Gibreel watches a violent episode unfold between protesters and soldiers; in a conversation with Burnat afterward, Gibreel asks why his father doesn’t fight the soldiers with a knife instead. Gibreel, who is below the age of six, is already considering violence as an option for protest.

“5 Broken Cameras” views the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a personal lens. Burnat shows how such a conflict affects his and his family’s life.

“I don’t think it’s possible to give a complete and fair representation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in two hours,” said Celia Alter ’19.5, President of J Street U Middlebury, when responding to how fairly the conflict was portrayed in the film. “There are too many stories and perspectives to encompass even a small portion in one movie. In showing this movie, I wanted to expose people to one personal story. The movie is about the conflict, but it’s also about the director’s family and life, though all of these are very intertwined. It’s a documentary, but that doesn’t eliminate bias. The directors had hundreds of hours of footage to sort through, so what made the cut for the 90 minute movie is not random.”

J Street U Treasurer Becca Gorman ’20 agreed, and added that, “Burnat thoughtfully displays the struggles, fears and pain that many Palestinians have to endure. He humanizes a people that are often dismissed by Western media and Israeli propaganda as ‘terrorists.’ That being said, there are two sides to every story and here we only hear one. We do not hear the fears and sorrow that most likely reside in every one of the Israeli soldiers, teenagers our age, being forced to serve for their country. We do not hear from the mothers of soldiers who have been injured by thrown rocks. We do not hear from Israeli children who have had Molotov cocktails thrown into their living room because they were dragged into a settlement by their parents. I don’t think that Burnat maliciously left out these narratives of the conflict. His goal was to tell the story of his people — a story that is often overlooked or ignored-and he accomplished that.”

J Street U Middlebury hopes to continue discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the fall, with more events and open discussions.