I recently watched “Five Broken Cameras,” a docu-film made by Palestinian farmer Emad Burnat and Israeli co-director Guy Davidi. This is a powerful documentary shot entirely by Burnat, and chronicles the struggles and tribulations of the Palestinian civilians in the village of Bil’in, which is made ‘secure’ by a fence, so that the Israelis do not feel threatened by the people of the village. The larger narrative is of the non-violent struggle in Palestinian villages, that seems to have gathered pace in the last few years. The theme of security is present throughout the film and one can argue the entire film challenges the dominant narrative of how to make the region “secure”. This binary of security-insecurity is explored in a very humane way, throughout the film.
The most powerful scene in the film is when Burnat’s friend Phil ( Pheel, which means Elephant in Arabic) is shot by Israeli Defense Force ( IDF) personnel, as he is protesting the barrier erected around the village. The unarmed villagers of Bil’in are shot at and in this melee of violence and confusion, Pheel is shot in the chest and dies, almost immediately. This graphic depiction of violence in the film is a testimony of the repression, violence that many of the Palestinian villages are enduring, almost on a daily basis. The politics of securitization, the violent repression of the Palestinians comes out in all its gory details here.
Earlier in the film, Emad describes how each of his four children were born in a different era and witnessed a different Palestine. With two Intifadas behind them, the Palestinians have seen the promises of peace, brokered by the American slip through and the continued dominance of Israel of all its territories. The film also chronicles the gradual growth of his youngest son, who witnesses daily humiliation and abuse from the Israelis.
Positioning Security: A subaltern perspective
“I feel like the camera protects me, but it’s an illusion, “says Emad while narrating the film. The title of the film derives from the five of his cameras that are destroyed, during the filming that Emad does, almost obsessively. This film is also a sub-altern perspective of security and goes to show how an average Palestinian, living in occupied territories experiences the challenges of living a dignified life. These are not the challenges of living in sheltered bomb protected structures or that of fearing the unknown terrorist, who may potentially blow himself up, but that of a state this threatens the very existence of people that are occupied. While this may not be a mainstream narrative of security, as it goes against the grain of defining who the ‘threat’ is, this film breaks the stereotype of who is the security threat.
While appearing to be professional, organized and doing their ‘job,’ the IDF come across as bullies and enforcers of a brutal regime, that stops at nothing when it comes to putting up barricades and barriers to ensure that the Israelis feel ‘safe.’
Role of gender in security narrative
The only prominent female in the film is the narrator’s wife, who is a home-maker and is shown as being raised in Brazil. Her role is that of the nurturer and protector. While the roles of the two key protagonists ( Emad and his wife) are complimentary, they are also strikingly different. Emad’s role is to chronicle the experiences of the residents of Bil’in as they fight to remove barriers of ‘security’ around their village i.e, the fence which eventually gives rise to a wall, her role is that of taking care of the family, gathering Olives at times (which provide them sustenance) and also nurture the family, despite all the odds against them.
The gender roles seem to be almost stereotyped in this case, ( Paur, Rai; 2006) but there is reason to believe that this is because of the challenges to social interactions as well as inability of the Palestinian women to move around freely, without exposing them to enormous amounts of ‘insecurity.’ The film also does a good job of showing this, though not directly. This subtle underlying theme of the film is important to understand and appreciate. While women have increasingly been playing a strong role in Palestinian politics, from women like Hanan Ashrawi, to other less-known thought leaders, there is no denying that men have continued to dominate the discussion around the Palestinian struggle and also the security narrative has been built around them. This can be seen as a very ‘male dominated’ discourse around security, as in many other cases.
My understanding of the security issues in Palestinian territories shifted only slightly, as this was not new material for me. I am aware of the manner in which security is positioned in this narrative, with the Palestinians showcased as the threat and the Israelis as the poor victims, while the ground-realities are quite the opposite. Despite this, the film did a good job of showing how the non-violent resistance to Israeli occupation is being dealt with. The shootings, arrests of young boys and the daily humiliations that the Palestinians suffer, to make the Israelis feel ‘secure’ was brought out very clearly in this this film.
In this, the film succeeded very well. What I would have liked to see is how women in the village deal with this. This perspective was captured in a small way with Emad’s wife’s reactions to his filming, but I believe with a few more voices, this could have been built into something of a stronger narrative of the female perspective.
Overall, a very powerful, sensitive and thought provoking film, which is getting rave reviews across the world. The fact that this involves Israeli collaboration shows that the film will be seen and shown among Israelis who stand in solidarity with the Palestinians, and hopefully this will add to the rising crescendo of voices for greater Palestinian autonomy and rights of the people living in the occupied territories. A must watch for anyone interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
 Refer to Pape Robert, Feldman James, Cutting the Fuse, University of Chicago Press, 2010