Carrying a videocamera on a demonstration in Bi’lin in the West Bank is an open invitation to trigger happy Israeli occupation forces to use the film-maker as target practice.
The casual warning I received while making my own short film in the midst of a tear-gas attack a few years ago only struck home when the documentary, Five Broken Cameras, exposed the full reality of Israel’s murderous snipers enforcing Bi’lin’s contested apartheid wall.
In my film, Harvest of Bi’lin, I could only document a brief but terrifying experience as the IDF showered tear gas canisters on peaceful protesters.
For Emad Burnat, the life or death experience of living and working as a freelance cameraman in the village is counted in the number of cameras he has had smashed - sometimes by bullets. He owes his life to one camera which stopped a bullet clearly aimed at his head as he was filming.
With the help of Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi, his story is told in a matter of fact manner, a family narrative that embraces the struggle in Bi’lin to stop the wall cutting across their fields. While I could only document the soldiers preventing villagers garnering their olives and captured an alternative bitter harvest of scores of tear-gas bomblets littering the ground, Emad Burnat documents year after year of protest and victimisation.
Replacing each damaged camera and continuing to bravely film, he is the daring cameraman who caught IDF soldiers deliberately shooting a demonstrator in the leg after his arrest, and
it was his lens that introduced us to an endearing and ebullient village character then portayed the tragedy as he was senselessly shot and killed.
Emad’s story is touching, revealing the pressures and frustrations that a casual participant in the Bi’lin demonstrations can only guess at. His wife despairs after Emad’s narrow escape from death, and then he himself has to come to terms with being treated in an Israeli hospital for serious internal injuries after crashing his car.
The hostility of the surrounding illegal settlements is also clearly revealed, not least in the film’s documenting of Palestinian olive groves being burned to the ground. The settlers are protected by the occupying Israeli soldiers - the villagers left helpless.
Premiered in New York in March and now released on DVD, Five Broken Cameras is a documentary that cries out for a wider audience and should be required viewing for all those who have yet to understand the enduring injustice perpetrated against the people of Palestine.
A video put together from footage taken by Jane Frere, who spent time on the Israel/Palestine border.
A condensed version of what she saw that day.