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‘Five Broken Cameras’ brings West Bank human-rights abuses to light

With this film, many people will now have the opportunity to hear a side of the story that has previously been inaccessible to them.

On Jan. 10 the Academy Awards nominated the film “Five Broken Cameras” for Best Documentary of 2012. The film chronicles the growth of Emad Burnat’s youngest son in the Palestinian village of Bil’in in Israeli Occupied West Bank. Burnat, a founder of the Palestinian resistance organization “Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements,” points his camera not only toward his child, but at the ever increasingly violent Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) as they confiscate village land in order to build the Annexation Wall and expand the nearby Jewish-only settlements.

I hope Minnesotans will see this film and its documentation of the multiple injustices endured by Palestinians in villages like Bil’in.

The construction of the wall (declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004) expropriated 2,300 dunums (one dunum is about one quarter of an acre) of agricultural land from the village, and although the Israeli Supreme Court, in a rare victory for the Palestinians, declared in 2007 that the wall should be moved, the construction has continued and considerable village property has been confiscated. Bil’in now faces what many Palestinian villages in the West Bank face: complete devastation of the local economy, lack of access to their land and water resources, and military incursions and raids in their village.

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The Popular Committee was formed to protest against these injustices and the entire village protests weekly in non-violent and wonderfully creative ways. Some of these creative demonstrations have included dressing as the Avatar film characters, the Na’vi, dressing as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela, and putting themselves into cages in the paths of the bulldozers. Earlier this month, residents of Bil’in played an instrumental role in creating the tent city of Bab el Shams (Gate of the Sun, from the novel of the same name by Elias Khoury). The tent city protest arose as Palestinians tried to reclaim land that Israel is in the process of confiscating. The IDF violently attacked the tent city and several protesters had to be hospitalized.

Non-violent demonstrators injured or killed

The Popular Committee demonstrations have been non-violent, yet they have been met with extreme violence on the part of the IDF. At least two demonstrators were killed (siblings Bassem and Jawaher Abu Rahma), one with a tear gas canister fired directly at his chest at close range, and another from tear-gas inhalation. Many demonstrators have been seriously injured and many others have been arrested, including children as young as 11 years old.

A report by the human-rights group Defence of Children International includes descriptions about the treatment of these children in custody, including not allowing access to lawyers or their parents and forcing them to sign “confessions” written in Hebrew, a language that they do not understand.

Emad Burnat documented all of these events in his film. Naturally, the IDF, unhappy that their actions were being documented, broke five of his cameras. That his film has been nominated for an Academy Award is wonderful news to people who are trying to educate Americans about Israeli human-rights abuses. Whether the film wins in this category or not, it is now known far and wide, and many people will now have the opportunity to hear a side of the story that has previously been inaccessible to them.

Presentations in Minnesota

Recently Emad Burnat’s brother Iyad visited Minnesota to give several presentations in conjunction with a nationwide education tour about the Bil’in Popular Committee. His stops in Minnesota were coordinated by Minnesota Break the Bonds Campaign (MN BBC), a group of human-rights activists. MN BBC, along with Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements and 25 other individuals and organizations, had filed a lawsuit against the State Board of Investment (SBI), which has invested public taxpayer and pension funds in Israel Bonds. These bonds are used for (among other projects) illegal settlement construction, bypass road construction (highways constructed in the occupied West Bank which only Israelis can use), and the annexation wall.

These projects are all illegal according to international law (the Fourth Geneva Convention), and they have been acknowledged as illegal by the U.S. State Department. Under Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, treaties signed and ratified by the Federal Government are the law of the land. Therefore, Minnesota, by funding these illegal projects, is aiding and abetting illegal activity.

Minnesotans should understand their role in depriving Palestinians of their human rights. Confiscating land and denying basic freedoms are not activities that moral and ethical people can support, and I believe that Minnesotans are moral and ethical. The movie “Five Broken Cameras” will be available soon for viewing, and all are encouraged to watch it, learn from it, and then become active in stopping the abuses that are portrayed.

Sylvia Schwarz is an engineer living in St. Paul and a Core Team member of Minnesota Break the Bonds Campaign.

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