Amidst the excitement, bright lights, paparazzi, screaming fans, autograph hunters and taut bodies smuggled into skin-tight, dazzling, sequined outfits – leaving little to the imagination – millions of eyes from around the globe trained on one dignified couple who walked the red carpet at the recent Oscar Awards.
The woman’s understated beauty, her head modestly covered, was emphasised by the exquisite hand-made, white Palestinian dress with red embroidery, she wore. Soraya Burnat was accompanying her husband, Palestinian farmer and film maker Emad Burnat, and her young son Jibril after the film 5 Broken Cameras, co-produced with Israeli film maker Guy Davidi, was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign film. This was the first Palestinian film to be nominated for an Oscar. It had been a long journey for the Palestinian family from the tiny village of Bil’in, near Ramallah, in the Israeli Occupied West Bank. It had taken them nearly two days to travel the thousands of miles from their home to the US. Upon arrival the couple and their excited young son were, for several hours, humiliated and interrogated by American immigration officials unconvinced that Palestinians could be the recipients of an invitation to the Oscars.
With the intervention of internationally renowned American film maker Michael Moore, the couple was eventually released and free to attend the ceremony. In a show of solidarity other Oscar nominees and some of Hollywood’s directors postponed their dinner to wait for the arrival of the family. Many were unaware of the humiliation the family had suffered or of the suffering that Palestinians in Bil’in and in the rest of the Occupied Territories are subjected to on a daily basis under Israeli occupation.
“Although this was an unpleasant experience, this is a daily occurrence for Palestinians throughout the West Bank,” Burnat wrote in a statement. “My wife and I had seen that look before – on the faces of our kids, mostly. After all, like all Palestinian children living in the West Bank, ours have grown accustomed to the humiliation of ID checks and interrogations.
“There are more than 500 Israeli checkpoints, road- blocks and other barriers to movement across our land, and not a single one of us has been spared the experience that my family and I experienced yesterday. Ours was a very minor example of what my people face every day,” said Burnat.
But the real journey for Burnat and Bil’in village began eight years ago when footage for 5 Broken Cameras began to be filmed before a final 500 hours of footage from five different cameras was put together for the final film which won the World Cinema Documentary Directing Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and the Best Documentary award at last year’s Jerusalem Film Festival.
In 2005 Bil’in villagers, together with their Israeli and international supporters, began staging weekly Friday protests against Israel’s separation barrier. The barrier cut directly through the village cutting farmers off from their agricultural fields on which most of the villagers are dependent for their livelihoods.
The Israeli authorities say the separation barrier was built to separate Israel proper from the West Bank and to protect Israelis from a wave of suicide bombings carried out during the second Palestinian Intifada which began in 2000, killing hundreds of Israelis, including civilians.
The problem is that the barrier veers significantly off the internationally recognised Green Line border by hundreds of kilometres, gobbling up large swathes of fertile Palestinian land in its wake and decimating the Palestinian economy while trapping thousands of Palestinians between the barrier and the Green Line.
In 2005 Bil’in village took the Israeli authorities to court over the matter and eventually won a ruling whereby the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the Israeli military to reroute the barrier. Although the new route still cut through the West Bank, illegally under international law, it nevertheless returned some of Bili’n farmers’ land to them.
In February 2006 the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the State of Israel to justify why it had refused to alter the intended separation wall position in Bil’in. Several years later the Israeli military did alter the route of the wall but not along the route dictated by the court.
Nevertheless, the villagers are not giving up. They are pursuing their right to have all their land returned to them and believe through the support of international grassroots organisations and increasing international recognition of the illegality of Israel’s occupation they will one day triumph. This is why the Palestinian issue making it to Hollywood has been such an important step forward.
“I’m very excited to be nominated and it’s an honour.
But it’s more important for me than the Oscar that this will draw attention to my story, to my village’s story, to the Palestinian story, to solve the problem, to get freedom and to get peace for our kids and the next generation,” said Burnat.
The support of Israeli activists has also been very important to the Palestinian struggle including Davidi’s collaboration with Burnat in making 5 Broken Cameras. Davidi and Burnat began working together a few years after Davidi came to Bil’in in 2005 to support the villagers’ protests.
Davidi, however, was quick to dismiss media gush about an Israeli and Palestinian collaborating on a joint project.
“I’m not part of the film in order to show the good face of Israelis. I’m not representative of Israeli society. I’m part of a very tiny minority in Israel. So it’s not fair to use me and my identity to say, ‘Look, an Israeli is working with a Palestinian.’ That’s not the issue. The issue is that occupation is very bad for Israelis, and I think more Israelis should participate in this kind of movement, which unfortunately is not the case.”
“There is a tendency to beautify Israeli and Palestinian collaboration, to show it as ideal. It wasn’t ideal. We had a lot of challenges in doing that. But I think the main thing is that we are working together for a certain cause and the cause is to stop occupation, to give freedom to Palestinian people, and this is what drives us,” said Davidi. Simultaneously he was critical of Israelis portraying themselves as victims in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
“There are a lot of films told by Palestinians speaking about the occupation that are playing in this game of ‘Who is the better victim?’ And then Israelis that think of themselves as victims of humanity because of history, so they are afraid of being victims again. So this allows them to victimise other people,” added Davidi.
“The collaboration was between friends and humans, not an Israeli-Palestinian message,” said Burnat. “To show Israelis and Palestinians working together is not solving the problem. It means nothing. We have to look at the politicians to change their policies about the other side.”
The colonisation of Palestinian lands, whether dubbed legal or illegal by Israel, has been condemned by UN Resolutions 242 and 338. The construction of the Wall and annexation of Palestinian lands to be converted into Israeli military zones has been condemned by the UN and the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Furthermore, according to the UN, the presence of armed forces on a foreign territory, which the village of Bil’in is experiencing, is an illegal situation punishable by international military intervention (as in Kuwait in 1991), as well as being a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. All forms of collective punishment, such as those imposed on Bil’in villagers, are punishable, according to the Fourth Geneva Convention, and are considered war crimes by the UN.
We post a selection of stories from our current edition on our website .To read the magazine in full please see the home page of the website for details of how to subscribe. For digital subscriptions click HERE.