“5 Broken Cameras” shakes up Israeli consciousness?

The Israeli and Palestinian film 5 Broken Cameras didn’t win Best Documentary at this year’s Oscars (Searching for Suger Man, a fine film, did).

This piece by Barak Ravid in Haaretz is the perfect example of the liberal Zionist dilemma; frustrated by the occupation but seemingly incapable and/or unwilling to do anything about it:

There is nothing further from the reality in the West Bank than the Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles. Although they are a 16-hour flight apart, the two worlds were briefly brought together on Sunday night. On Israeli television, reports about the protests in Hebron, Nablus and Ramallah were intermingled with predictions of Dror Moreh,Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi’s Oscar prospects.

Perhaps this night – filled with tear gas in one place and tuxedos and evening gowns in the other – actually articulated the reality of the occupation better than most. For those who were paying attention, the red carpet blared a warning of the outbreak of the third intifada.

The local documentaries nominated for Oscars, “The Gatekeepers” and “Five Broken Cameras,” reveal the makeup of the occupation from which the next violent conflagration will erupt. Like a punch in the gut or a slap in the face, they try shock Israelis out of the escapist stupor we have allowed ourselves to drift into. They pry open our tightly shut eyes, making it hard for us to remain blind to the fact that the Palestinians exist and that conscripting ultra-Orthodox men into the army and bringing down housing prices are not our most pressing national issues.

“The Gatekeepers” offers a glimpse inside the Shin Bet security service machine that over the course of 46 years has been tuned to perfection. But while it is providing absolute security to Israelis it is grinding the Palestinians into a powder.

“Five Broken Cameras” shows the despair and the anger churned up by the same well-oiled juggernaut. It captures the futile struggle of an ordinary Palestinian citizen who has been robbed of his land so we can sleep without fear.

In “The Gatekeepers,” the legendary Shin Bet chief Avraham Shalom talks about how the Shin Bet sought out work for itself in the West Bank in the 1970s. He explains how, without anybody noticing, the organization became a mechanism that feeds itself by creating more and more terrorists, producing more and more assassinations and arrests.

Shalom’s words echo in the recent death, 40 years later, of the Palestinian prisoner Arafat Jaradat in Megiddo Prison. Jaradat was not an arch-terrorist. He led into Israel’s interrogation cells by the circumstances of his life. When he was arrested last week, three months after his crime, he admitted to having thrown stones. True, stones kill. But is every stone-thrower a legitimate target for the Shin Bet? If he is a Palestinian, yes; if he is a “hilltop youth,” not necessarily.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not watched either of the Oscar-nominated film. He undoubtedly believes Burnat is a terrorist, Davidi is an anarchist and Moreh is a leftist commissar who – together with the Shin Bet chiefs in his movie and the hostile media – only wants to topple the regime. The truth is Netanyahu is simply afraid. If he watches the films, he might see the reality of the occupation, and worse, he might even agree, heavens forefend, with some of what he sees.

Moreh, Burnat and Davidi left the awards ceremony empty handed. The members of the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences loved their films but not enough to award them the cherished Oscar statuette. But the directors did leave the ceremony with one significant accomplishment. By means of five broken cameras and the six gatekeepers, they brought the bleeding conflict between us and the Palestinians back into Israeli discourse. These days, that is quite the prize.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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