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

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.

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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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by MF Haeusler on 01/19/2013 - 06:05 pm.

    Ya gotta love

    The organization the author is a coreTeam member of wishes to promote justice and human rights with “the apartheid state of Israel …” Or maybe not. Either way, sounds like an open-minded starting point . . .

  2. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 01/19/2013 - 06:19 pm.

    I don’t suppose

    Miss Schwarz or her BDS mob cares about the Arab airstrike the killed 12 people in Sayeda Zeinab south of Damascus – or the 900 Palestinian Arabs killed in Syria. Or that Palestinian Arab television broadcasts calls that “Jews are the descendants of apes and pigs”.

    Only when Jews are involved, right Sylvia?

    • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 01/20/2013 - 06:53 am.

      Nice Straw man arguments Neal

      Why don’t you write a community article about Arabs killed in Syria, and how the United States supports such killings, if that were the case. Or that the Shas party leader called Arabs “vipers”

      Or is only when someone poses questions that do you invent your straw man arguments.

      • Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 01/20/2013 - 10:18 pm.


        There are two elements to a straw man argument:

        1. Ignore a person’s actual position; and
        2. A distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of the position is substituted.

        I generally ignore BDS rhetoric due to its purely defamatory objectives and lack of context. The rest of my comment was of fact, not a distortion of her argument. Therefore, there is no straw man argument on my part.

  3. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 01/20/2013 - 11:47 am.

    The analogy seems apt.

    How is the appropriation of private property of Palestinian landowners, with or without compensation (and confiscation sounds like “without”) for Jewish only settlements not apartheid just like South Africa except based on religion not race or color? Breaking the Bonds sounds like a valid and responsible effort to promote disinvestment in unjust practices of the State of Israel. This strategy worked well with South Africa in ending apartheid. Maybe it can work well in bringing a halt to these divisive and unjust settlements.

    There’s little I can do as an American citizen about the tragic conflict that seems to be at the root of much of the acrimony and strife in the world today. One does not have to take sides to call out injustice when and where it exists. Just because the State of Israel is involved in it should not automatically condone unjust actions any more than it should be condemned for taking sometimes harsh actions necessary in defense of its people.

    • Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 01/20/2013 - 10:25 pm.

      The analogy is not credible.

      There are Arab and Muslim citizens of Israel. They can use the same buses, hospitals and bathrooms.

      If you want to discuss about resolving the war, Mr. Kingstad, talk it over with Fatah, Palestianian Islamic Jihad, Hizb”Allah, and Hamas. Let’s see how far you’ll get.

      Settlements = Jewish people living in Judea. The Jews no longer require the world’s permission to live outside their ghettoes.

      • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 01/21/2013 - 09:22 am.

        Second class citizens

        Everything I read and hear suggests that Arab and Muslim citizen of Israel are second class citizens. Maybe they can ride the same buses, and use the same bathrooms, but they are forced to live in economically starved ghettos and travel through umerous armed checkpoints to go to their jobs. If people’s property is confiscated, i.e. taken without compensation, that’s not just. As in any situation where groups of people are treated unjustly, violent extremists will emerge.

        As far as “Judea” is concerned, someone else could say “Palestine.” Neither have any legal significance except to their partisans. The West Bank settlement process, as I understand it, has not been clear and consistent policy of the government of Israel but has been vigorously disputed. It goes on now because of the control of the government by right wing elements. The voices of Israeli’s of good faith who oppose settlement are not heard in this debate.

        • Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 01/22/2013 - 06:36 am.

          Exactly what is your concern?

          What business is it of yours if Jews build houses in Judea, part of their historic homeland, where they’ve returned after thousands of years of massacres, expulsions and oppression by Christian and Muslim states?

          Israel is a Jewish, the Jews can build houses in Judea, Samaria, the Negev, or Gush Etzion. You have no say, and I reiterate: it’s none of your business.

          Go negotiate with Hamas. Let me know how it goes after they say “waqf”.

  4. Submitted by Raj Maddali on 01/21/2013 - 07:13 am.

    The analogy is credible

    All Arabs and Muslims living under Israeli rule are not citizens of Israel. Any Arabs and Muslim does not have the same rights as a Israeli jewish citizen.

    If any jewish people can live in Judea, then any muslim should be able to live in Tel Aviv. With the same rights. Can they ? No.

    • Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 01/22/2013 - 06:36 am.

      Citizens of Israel

      If you are stating your beliefs out of ignorance, you can be forgiven. If not, you are perpetrating a lie.

      “If any jewish people can live in Judea, then any muslim should be able to live in Tel Aviv.”

      If the Muslim is an Israeli citizen, yes. Judea is Jewish land. Jews can live anywhere on lands not otherwise privately owned.

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