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'5 Broken Cameras' director: There is no room for guilt - only taking responsibility

NEW YORK — Before Guy Davidi co-directed and produced 5 Broken Cameras, he was involved in Indymedia and an experienced filmmaker. He was also associated with Anarchists Against the Wall, Israeli anti-occupation activists. This is how he came to know the West Bank village of Bil’in, home of the film’s co-director, Emad Burnat.

Emad Burnat (left) and Guy Davidi at a screening of 5 Broken Cameras in New York City (credit: Lisa Goldman)

“I lived in the village for two months in 2005,” he recalled, during a conversation that took place at a coffee shop in New York, where he was promoting the film ahead of the Oscars. “That was an intense time, with the [Palestinian Legislative Council] election. That was also the time of the night raids and arrests. The struggle was just beginning. I used to go out and film the soldiers, or try to stop them. And that was when I started to get to know Emad, because he used to go out and film when I did.”

Over the next five years, Burnat shot 700 hours of footage. Every Friday afternoon, week after week, through the present day, the villagers have been holding demonstrations against Israel’s wall, which severed them from their agricultural land. Burnat filmed the tear gas, the bullets, the arrests, the beatings — and the death of his cousin, Bassem Abu-Rahmeh (“Phil”), who died when an Israeli soldier shot a tear gas canister directly at his chest.

With another 300 hours of footage from other sources, Davidi and Burnat scripted and edited the film so that the narrative focuses on the 2005 birth of Burnat’s son Gibreel, who grew up against the background of the village’s struggle and all the attendant violence; and on the eponymous five cameras, broken successively by tear gas canisters, rubber bullets and similar violent incidents.  The result is a deeply moving, thought-provoking documentary that won critical acclaim and a major award at the Sundance Festival. Then came the Oscar nomination, in the category of best feature documentary.

Emad Burnat with his five broken cameras (credit: film PR materials)

The making of a film is always an enormous undertaking, even under the best of circumstances. But when a Palestinian and an Israeli Jew set out to produce jointly a documentary about Israel’s occupation as seen through Palestinian eyes, the physical, social and political challenges are enormous. At first, Davidi was not sure he wanted to take the project on.

“I’m Israeli and he is Palestinian, so of course I knew we would be heavily criticized for working together,” said Davidi. But Burnat was determined to make the film and Davidi was the most obvious partner — an experienced filmmaker who knew Bil’in and was involved in the anti-occupation struggle at the grassroots level.

One of the challenges the two men faced was the anti-normalization position in Palestinian society, which some advocates interpret as going beyond a boycott of Israeli goods and institutions to include cultural or artistic partnerships.

When the Israeli media began referring to 5 Broken Cameras an an Israeli film, a competition between the Palestinian and Israeli press over over national credit ensued. Finally, it was screened at a large cultural center in Ramallah. Davidi was not invited.

“Emad did not get a lot of exposure for this film. In Ramallah people criticized him for working with Israelis.” He continued, “I believe the film succeeds not only because it’s good, but because it shows the partnership between Jews and Palestinians.”

“The Israeli Left likes to see 5 Broken Cameras as a film that points the finger of blame at Israeli society. This is also the strategy of Palestinian society, to point the finger at Israel. So the whole discussion of the occupation is about guilt, which is very destructive. I’m saying there is no room for guilt. There is only room for taking responsibility. A lot of Israelis say it’s so great that Israelis and Palestinians are working together — but then they go off and cry [about the occupation]. There is no place for tears and guilt here. Only taking responsibility.”

Even after the Sundance Award, said Davidi, the film was ignored in Palestine. Similarly, Davidi could not find a commercial cinema to screen the film in Tel Aviv. Instead, it found a home at the Cinematheque — the local art house cinema. Then came the Oscar nod, and the Israeli media rushed to claim the film as one of their own. It was broadcast on one of the local cable television stations, and then finally on the widely watched Channel 2 this week — albeit at 11 p.m.

“I do want to challenge the anti-normalization discourse,” said Davidi. “It’s an important topic and an important discussion to have. I support some aspects of anti-normalization, but I think it’s out of all proportion in Palestinian society. Of course it’s true Israelis don’t pay the same price as the Palestinians. They are occupied. But we should talk about these things.”

With a touch of cynicism, Davidi commented, “There were times I felt I had not sufficiently proved myself. I thought to myself that maybe we needed an Israeli activist to die in order to win credibility. Perhaps not enough Israeli blood has been spilled.”

The young filmmaker has been trying to ignite a conversation within Israeli society, too. He crowd-sourced the funds and led group discussions about the film with high school students, then realized after the first screening that the teenagers would need some advance preparation before seeing the film.

“The Israeli high school kids who saw the film without any prior preparation went into shock,” he said. “They had gone through a school system that prepared them for the army. It wasn’t fair to come to them and break that image with a hammer all at once, to break that world of lies they live in.”

He continued, “Of course they got angry at me, accused me of lying and being a traitor. But the anger is really against the whole system that lied to them. And I know what that’s like because I lived through it. So I tell the kids, ‘Go ahead and get mad at me. Take it all out on me. Soon you will realize that your anger is not against me, but against the whole system that lied to you.’”

“I hope,” he said, “That there will be enough time for them to think about these things before they go into the army. I want to tell them, ‘Hey you’ve got a couple of years between the ages of 16 and 18 to think about what you’re doing and choose a different path.’”

Davidi was drafted to the army at age 18 along with his peers, but knew immediately that he could not serve (“I saw that everything was totally corrupt in the army. They teach you to steal and lie“). He obtained a psychological discharge three months into his basic training. It was that brief experience in the army that politicized him, said Davidi. “My family is not Leftist.”

Davidi’s mother now lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, where she teaches at a Jewish day school. Tonight she will accompany her son to the Academy Award ceremony in Los Angeles. But when we spoke less than two weeks ago,  Davidi told me she had not yet seen the film.

“It’s hard for her, “ he said. “People – Jewish Americans and Israelis – told her that her son was a traitor.”

Despite their political differences, Davidi says that he and his family get along well today. About the film, he says, “I made it for spiritual reasons. Without those spiritual reasons, there would be no film.”

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Noevil9

      David, by collaborating with Palestinians/ Emad, to produce such a film does not make you a traitor. What happen to you is your conscious was coming alive in those two months that you lived in Billin and experienced what the People there are sujected to on daily bases. The metamorphisis of the jewish souls after the Holocaust, from the effect of victimes to victimizers, has erased in its path their sense of responsablity ,justice and human faireness. They were so tromatized, by actual experience mixed with hype propoganda against the palestinias, that they were allowed themselves to see the palestinians as less than humans and as enemies. I appreciat you mentioning the degree of negative reaction of the high school students, and their shock and accusation. The Zionist/Israeli leadership, were very aware, that without that brain washing, of too many jews,they would not subscribe, never the less partake in such a double sided noble/criminal esperations. The conflict that Israel and Jews are facing by the Palestinians, is not having a secure homeland for the jewish people, it’s ethincly cleansing the Palestinians from their homes and land, and killing them. Confusing, and intentionaly mixing the two issues together is what complicates this conflict. It’s not innocently done in my opinion,not by all Jews, but by some. And this is The crime ! Till Israelis/Jews realize what have been done on their name and get out of the victimhood mentality, this conflict will continue, and will end up taking away every right the Jewish people have gained in the proccess unless its done with the power of the gun.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gil

        Noevil9,

        This movie-and a lot of other “documentary” evidences that make so much noise in the world, are actually went on a lot of editing that normally shows “the peaceful Palestinian people that are quietly protesting, and then comes the Israeli military and kicks them off very violently” right? Well, that isn’t much of truth. Look at the clothes of soldiers and people in scenes where they protest quietly-and then look at their clothes when it’s all violent. A bit different, hey? That’s because it’s totally different scenes. And how much times did you see in this movie Palestinians throwing stones at Israeli soldiers? almost none, if at all. now have a look in Youtube, and search for “Palestinians throwing stones at Israeli Soldiers”, oh no, the Israeli soldiers shoot some live ammo at “quietly protesting people”. Actually, this ammo is blank ammo, and actually, there are some quiet protesters, and actually there’s much more violent protesters. If somebody will throw something at you what will you do? Tip for life: don’t judge somebody if you have only a half of his story. Check for what are you actually standing for.

        Reply to Comment
        • HHH

          Comment deleted.

          Reply to Comment
        • fiona

          You have got to be kidding. The Israeli army are in advanced protective gear and are clearly using live ammo as they are killing people. Verses those throwing rocks? To me the jewish people are acting just like the nazis who once tried to annialate them. How easily we can debase into evil, dehumanizing the enemy and becoming the oppressor.

          Reply to Comment
    2. “there is no room for guilt. There is only room for taking responsibility. A lot of Israelis say it’s so great that Israelis and Palestinians are working together — but then they go off and cry [about the occupation]. There is no place for tears and guilt here. Only taking responsibility.” : That’s what the law is for.

      “I believe the film succeeds not only because it’s good, but because it shows the partnership between Jews and Palestinians.” : This is the only road. The ostrich head hiding hopes of ignoring or removing the Other will simply continue indefintely the structural violence. Full anti-normalization tries to make ostracism a weapon where weapons are rare. All it does is punish those who want to reach out into something new.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        That film would have succeeded, if not for polls, showing that great most of Palestinians are only interested in peace if it would include Juden-Frei Palestine.

        Nearly a century ago, in 1919, Palestinian Arab leaders has openly and clearly stated that Jews can’t have a national home in Palestine.

        Do you honestly believe that Palestinian Arab point of view has changed since?

        Reply to Comment
        • Zephon

          *sigh* I wonder, if 5000 years from now when people look back at our version of cyber space; they’ll be trying to scientifically determine, whether or not, we were all Chimpanzees just trying to convince ourselves of being highly advanced civilized Apes.

          “Jews want to destroy the world!”
          “Palestinians want to destroy the Jews!”

          $#@! is just flying everywhere in this cage.

          It’s like watching two retards slapping away at each other – with conviction.

          Nothing needs to receive an award to be of value or importance. It’s the award that is given value and importance by being received.

          5 Broken Cameras is a perfect example of humanity disappointing but not it’s failing – not yet anyway.

          Reply to Comment
          • I just had a terrifying vision of archeology presentations on +972 cyberspace discourse 5000 years hence.

            Reply to Comment
          • Zephon

            One is left wondering what the documentaries would look like. If ours of just ancient Egypt are anything to go by.

            We ought to apologize 5000 years in advance. But knowing how such terms are regarded today; they would probably assert that apology = zero sincerity by then.

            Or maybe there is no real feasible way of apologizing for stupidity 5000 years from now – one can only hope.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Zephon,
            You’ve written quite a lot, but managed to make 0 (zero) sense.

            Since you apparently seem to have problem understanding simple facts, I’ll repeat:
            In 1919 Palestinian Arab leaders has openly and clearly stated that Jews can’t have a national home in Palestine.

            Until that position changes, there will be no peace.

            Since this position isn’t gonna be changed, there is no hopes for peace in foreseeable future.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Aaron Gross

      “Of course they got angry at me, accused me of lying and being a traitor. But the anger is really against the whole system that lied to them. And I know what that’s like because I lived through it. So I tell the kids, ‘Go ahead and get mad at me. Take it all out on me. Soon you will realize that your anger is not against me, but against the whole system that lied to you.’”

      Disgusting. I’ve actually come across this kind of patronizing, condescending jerk before, but never this bad.

      Reply to Comment
      • He makes several good points (the need to differentiate between feeling guilt and taking responsibility, for example) but this part made me wince as well. It sounds to me as though Davidi may be attributing his own feelings to the teenagers. School kids are undeniably groomed for eventual military service, but they still think about and react to this in different ways. Watching such a film could open up the space for them to talk about that a little, rather than just providing the co-director with a chance to tell them what they’re feeling and why.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Richard Witty

      More power to you for documenting and explaining through film what you witnessed.

      I too regard the anti-normalization theme as more of the same, when change is needed.

      Reply to Comment
    5. rose

      trapasser,
      Mahamoud Abbas: “So from our side there will be no threat, and there will be a third party in our territories, but if we want an independent state, I will not accept any single Israeli in our territories. And what I mean by Israeli, you know that in the Israeli army there are some Muslims and Druz and Christians, I will not accept any of them but I can accept in the third party Jewish people from outside authorities because we are not against the Jews we are against the Israeli occupation.”
      -
      Salam Fayyad said in 2009: “Jews to the extent they choose to stay and live in the state of Palestine will enjoy those rights and certainly will not enjoy any less rights than Israeli Arabs enjoy now in the State of Israel”.
      -
      -
      “Nearly a century ago, in 1919, Palestinian Arab leaders has openly and clearly stated that Jews can’t have a national home in Palestine”:
      perhaps because they already rightly understood that Weizmann and co. wanted the entire land, even though they were a tiny minority. there is an occupier and an occupied: always keep in your racist mind this aspect

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Private opinions of Mr. Abbas Mr. Fayyad are of zero interest.

        Besides, the very idea of Arabs maintaining democratic, equal and successful state is ridiculous.

        Bring up just one example to prove me wrong.

        It’s a perfect reason to justify own blood-lust – we knew that you’d win all wars we start so we rejected you all rights from the beginning.

        Fine by me.

        Reply to Comment
        • Guillaume

          Funny how when push comes to shove, the hatred prism through which this conflict is seen always comes out. You started with the argument that Israel shouldn’t seek peace because Palestinians are not willing to grant them living space in Palestine (making yourself appear as the victim). However, when this 1919-old viewpoint is challenged you immediately switch to the very patronizing and racist opinion that “the very idea of Arabs maintaining democratic, equal and successful state is ridiculous”, also dismissing the opinions of Mr. Abbas, who happens to lead the PA (which other opinion should count?)… Let’s not even mention the two “simple facts” that follow, which you could summarize as: 1. Arabs are aggressive low-life scum (whom we therefore have a duty to oppress for our own protection) 2. Israelis are superior, democratic, freedom-loving shining examples of morality whose rights to occupy Palestine are denied by the savages next door (but we won’t let that deter us since we’ve established they’re scum). Nice. Constructive. Intelligent. Definitely likely to advance matters. It’s exactly your kind of rigid hatred and refusal to even consider the other’s point of view that justifies Palestinian aggression. Or are you too blind to see it?

          Reply to Comment
    6. Aaron Gross

      I’ve expressed my own opinion on collective Jewish responsibility and guilt regarding Palestinians, but I’d be interested if anyone wants to answer the reverse question: What responsibility do Palestinians collectively have towards Jews? I mean right here and now, in occupied Palestine or whatever.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Aaron, you should have got these two simple facts by now.
        1 – Arabs have an inherent right to conquer and wage wars.
        2 – Jews have no right for a homeland in Palestine

        Reply to Comment
      • Leen

        I don’t think there is a collective Jewish responsibility for the Palestinians. I do however think there is a collective Israeli one. There’s a big difference, I am definitely not expecting a Jew in America to feel responsible for the occupation if he has never been in the region himself. Maybe there’s the issue of ‘look what Israeli is doing in his name’, but I’m nto expecting him to be guilty nor responsible if he himself has never been to Israel, never participated in israeli-related venues or contributed finance to such.

        For the palestinians, there also shouldn’t be a collective responsibility for the Jews (what is a Palestinian supposedly responsible for a Jew living in america who has no connection whatsoever in the land?). Maybe arguably collective responsibility to ensure that we live side by side with the Israelis and call out for equality and remove anti-semites from our cause, yes I can get behind that.

        Reply to Comment
    7. ruth

      The responsability of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. For the rest, they did much less than any other people would have done in the same situation

      Reply to Comment
      • Shmuel

        “The responsability of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. For the rest, they did much less than any other people would have done in the same situation”

        But you would have liked to see them succeed to do what they promised to do to the Jews, right Ruth?
        -

        Reply to Comment
    8. ruth

      “But you would have liked to see them succeed to do what they promised to do to the Jews, right Ruth?”: No I would have liked if Weizmann would not have attempted to steal the entire land using religion as a political tool and if his successors, the settlers, would not try to do the same today.

      Reply to Comment
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