Imagine living in a conflict that has divided two nations, literally, by a concrete barrier. This turbulent and heated confrontation has left many dead and even more injured. Welcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The documentary “5 Broken Cameras” is a portrayal of this modern day dispute through the personal lens of self-taught Palestinian cameraman, Emad Burnat. This compelling documentary provides a realistic presentation of the hatred that surrounds these two divided nations. Movie viewers will be drawn to this film is because it demonstrates the harsh realities of what it is like to live in the midst of a conflict and how the lives of those affected are altered as a result of this prolonged struggle.
Burnat is certainly effective in his ability to highlight the ever growing sense of bitterness these two nations feel towards each other. He receives his first camera in 2005, right around the time that his youngest son Gibreel is born. Once Burnat’s son grows, it’s apparent that the rift between Israel and Palestine becomes more and more aggressive. As the new child starts to evolve, so too does the intensity of the conflict. These growths interact and often times parallel one another as the film progresses.
This film quickly attempts to develop a relationship between the audience and Gibreel, a relationship that only strengthens as the film builds. In the opening scene we see this newly born baby wrapped up in blankets and smiling. Only if you have a cold soul will you not find this scene both adorable and heartwarming. My lack of a cold soul allows me to instantly be captivated by this precious baby. The subtitles noted that Burnat received the camera in hopes of filming his youngest child growing from infancy to adulthood. With that in mind, for the remainder of the documentary I longed to see this child grow up safely.
Right around the time of Gibreel’s birth, the Israeli Army begins building a barrier between Bil’in, Burnat’s community, and the nearby Jewish settlement of Modi’in Illit. The residents of Bil’in, outraged by the destruction of their olive groves which had been bulldozed by the military and burned by settlers, began to demonstrate their feelings of distress through weekly protests.
This is only the beginning. As the film progresses, these encounters between Israelis and Palestinians become more intensified. In my mind Burnat is a very brave man. He risks his life to film, often going into the line of fire in order to document the conflict. On multiple occasions, Burnat’s cameras have been the victims of both gas grenades and actual bullets. In one such incident, where his third camera is destroyed as a result of a pistol’s bullet, Burnat praises the camera for “protecting me while I film.” During this scene immediately after the bullet hits the camera lens, the background turns pitch black with an illuminated color where the bullet hit. I believe this scene is extremely powerful in conceptualizing the true dangers that this conflict can present.
Burnat’s biggest strength in creating this documentary is his ability to synthesize the increasing sense of intensity that the conflict gains, and presenting it alongside Gibreel’s growth.
In one scene, the documentary quickly transitions from a confrontation between an Israeli and Palestinian man to Gibreel celebrating his first birthday. This transition effectively displays that while all of this hostility has been brewing, concurrently individuals and families are still trying to go about and live their everyday lives as normally as they possibly can. We as an audience are thus more drawn to Gibreel; an effective tool that Burnat seeked to draw us to while he edited his footage.
What must be understood about this conflict is how drastically the lives of civilians have been altered. Burnat portrays the Israeli Army as a bully. They infiltrate Burnat’s community and put up a dividing barrier. There is no negotiating between the two sides, just the sense that this never ending conflict will continue indefinitely.
During the middle of the night, members of the Israeli Army arrive at Burnat’s home seeking his arrest. They state that he is not allowed to freely film the confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians and he must stop at once. Burnat tells his son and wife to go back inside and he will handle the situation himself. Not only do we see that the Israeli Army has the ability to seize Palestinians’ rights to freedoms, but the ominous music playing in the background only heightens our connection to Burnat’s family. During this encounter, the camera subtlely flashes towards Gibreel who is nervously peering from behind the door in an effort to hear and see what is going on. This not only demonstrates the realities of what children are being exposed to but also the fears that they feel. This is an extremely effective tool that Burnat uses in order to connect with his audience.
Once Gibreel turns four, Burnat allows his son to travel with him through the conflict and experience it first hand. As Gibreel and Burnat walk alongside the barrier, the scenes of dead bodies and pools of blood leave Gibreel extremely unphased. Any toddler, seeing such devastation and horror would normally be shaken, however, for Gibreel this is nothing new. Being born in this conflict has impacted his life, it has hardened him at such a young age. Burnat wants his audience to see the horrific scenes that Palestinian youth encounter on a daily basis as a result of this conflict, something that I hope few children should ever be exposed to during their lives.
The documentary “5 Broken Cameras” does more than just display the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in action. Rather, it demonstrates the first hand effects of families who have lived through travesty and hardship. By connecting the increased intensity of the conflict and displaying it alongside Gibreel’s growth, the audience is quickly drawn in and engaged in the film. Burnat successfully draws this parallel in order to hit his message close to home and make sure that it sticks. His message is as follows: The political crisis that unites and separates these two distinct cultures is not necessarily bound to be resolved soon, however, during the midst of this crisis, it is more than just politics that needs to be exemplified and understood. Life needs to go on.