Sundance Exclusive: Interview with Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi of 5 Broken Cameras

Co-directed by Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat and Israeli activist Guy Davidi, the images in 5 Broken Cameras are beautiful, haunting, and bring about dozens of other questions about the history of the occupation and the tactics around love and resistance. Thanks to their fabulous publicist Eseel, I got to interview Guy and Emad and ask them about their lives, their work, and what they think the future holds for Israel and Palestine.

What was the experience like, creating this film out of the footage?

Emad: It has been a sometimes good experience, a sometimes bad experience. In 2005, when I started to resist with my village, I decided to film to protect myself and to protect the other protests and to show the footage for other people, and to use the footage sometime to prove what is going on. Over the last seven years, [I documented] how what happened in the village affected me, my family, my children, and my friends, week by week. After many years of documenting, I thought that there was a huge story that I have to tell to other people. We decided to construct a documentary from my personal life and personal story. [5 Broken Cameras] is not a political film or just a film about conflict – it’s a film about life, and how the people can survive and how people live, and how kids grow up. For my kids, everyone loves those boys, and I wanted to make for them a good life, I wanted to take care of them, and protect them. I can’t tie them in the house every day, keep them 24 hours in one room. This is our life, like this. I tried to build for them a good life and a good situation. And I wanted to put my life and my experience in the village in one documentary.

Maybe [other people, in other parts of the world] see footage on the news, but they don’t know the reality and they don’t know the life of these people. I hope that this film does make some change, so we can change the life for everyone – in Palestine and Israel.

Guy, how did you get involved in the film?

Guy: I came to Bil’in in early 2005, one of the first Israeli peace activists that came. I was already interested in what was happening in this movement, I wanted be a part of it. My first main motivation is a bit selfish, it wasn’t just to help the movement – it was also for me. Israel is like a ghetto – it is closed, like a bubble, not sensitive to the others. You’re not allowed to go here, not allowed to go there – so I wanted to break that. I wanted to live in a free way. If we live in a free way, we have to confront the shadows – and what happens in the shadow is in Palestine and the settlements.

So I met Emad. He was a very known character from the start, because he was the only cameraman who was basically staying in the village all the time. He became what we say in the film, “the village’s eye.” So we met many times while filming. We didn’t work together until 2009, when Emad approached me to make the film, so we decided to make it as a personal narrative. When I thought in the beginning to make a film on Bil’in, there were many that were similar. We had to have a new and refreshing take and I was happy to find out in the material that we could tell the story in this very intimate and personal way. You could see in the world both the context of the movement and the occupation, and you can have a really intimate family moments.

One of the moments that is the most striking to me in the film are the images of people moving into the settlements that are causing all this conflict. Why is this still happening?

Guy: First we have to know that there are many kinds of settlements and many kinds of settlers. It is the Israeli machine that is making it move. These are not necessarily ideological settlers going because they want to conquer the land or wipe out Palestinians. They just want to improve their lives. The government is subsidizing the apartments in the West Bank, and using [the people’s] financial circumstances to move an agenda forward. Some settlers don’t know what is going on – the way Israel is designed, you can travel through parts and not really know where you are. Some settlers do know what’s going on and don’t care. And then you have a very small minority, a violent minority, the fundamentalist Jews that are creating terror in Palestine. They are small, but noisy and strong. If Israel would like to change its ways, they will have to find a way to root out the fundamentalists, to pull the weeds.

Emad: I think that from the beginning in ’67, the settlements were the Israeli government’s plan to place them on Palestinian territory to confiscate land and bring people from outside to [stabilize] the settlement. If the government wanted to remove it, they could. But I don’t know what’s their problem. The settlers have power – the government helps them, the developers help them, and sometimes they do bad things to their Palestinian neighbors. They are not connected to this land or this area. When you are connected to something you love it, you want to protect it – you wouldn’t cut down the olive trees if you loved the land. Sometimes, settlers come because of the economy, but sometimes it is ideology.

Another major part of the film is the moment when you take your boys outside of the village and to the sea near Tel Aviv. Why show scenes like the boys playing in the surf?

Emad: I think that in our lives are about experiences. Sometimes I lived a quiet life and sometimes I lived in a bad situation. We have to continue our lives, like normal, even if we live under the occupation and bad conditions sometimes. As a father, I have to give my children some hope for the future – we have to live our life in the bad and the good. When we want to go to the sea, we go to the sea, when we have to resist, we have to resist. I wanted to share and show this experience to people who aren’t living this life. So maybe we can touch and reach their minds and their hearts, and create a good life for everyone.

One of the more painful moments in the film is the realization that after four years of struggle, the settlements were still moving forward. Guy, what was it like for you watching the settlements continue, in spite of all the efforts by activists?

Guy:I don’t want this to sound cold or unfeeling, but I think that suffering has always been with us. It was in the past and it will be in the future. Sometimes you are the victim, some times you are the oppressor. Most of the time you are both in some ways – I may be an oppressor by paying my taxes to Israeli government, and I’m a victim of these systems at the same time. And every one of us is like that. Of course it is important for us to try to change our reality out of responsibility – not blame or pity. What is important is how we carry suffering, and how we deal with it in life. Maybe [Emad] will never see peace and justice and freedom in his life. Maybe his sons will see it, maybe not. But what gives us a kind of liberty and freedom is what we do in our lives. That can bring joy and a sense of power. That’s the challenge we all face in life. I cannot say what we do will or won’t change reality – I can be pessimistic or optimistic, but in the end what’s really important is what everyone is doing in this situation. If everyone will focus on that, change will come faster.

Emad: I think there is something wrong in the system, not just where I live. There are many places in the world where something wrong has happened. You find people who live in peace and people who suffer all over the world. My message for the world and the people who have power, is to just to feel with people who have nothing – give them feeling, create something good for them, try to say something in their life.

Emad halts the interview for a moment to pray.

An interesting segment in the film is the discussion of all the legal action – in essence, Palestinians have to appeal to a legal system that is part of a state that discriminates against them. Why did you chose to take action through the courts?

Guy: That’s complicated. It was a big debate in the village, and definitely with the Israeli peace activists, whether to use the Israeli system at all. Israel thinks it is a democratic country and they have a good law that balances between civil rights and justice and security needs. This is how they see themselves. But on the ground, we see that this system is so far from just plain common sense – we don’t need international courts to know that what is going on is completely unjust. We are not seeing a system that works with justice. It corresponds with political needs. So the activists and the villages are using that system to try to get some [leverage.] But no one is under the illusion that this is justice. Getting back the land isn’t a good result – we may make things better for some people, but this is not a victory, this is not a change. The aim of this movement is some kind of hint for out strength, the idea that we can do much more.

Emad: I think that with the Israeli court, no one in the village believed they would remove the court and the fence from Bil’in land. But after the demonstration and the march, the Army kept saying “why don’t you go to the courts?” The Army told us all the time they have to come here and protect the fence and the security – it is not their decision, they need to change things in court. The Army wanted us to go to court – they wanted to make a political decision, not just to give the people feeling that the protest led to the removal of the wall, they wanted to make it more beautiful – “the Israeli court chose to remove the wall.” At the same time, they use this decision to take another illegal decision for the settlement. That settlement was illegal – so they wanted to make the decision both remove the wall and legalized the settlement.

Guy: So the court is a political instrument. If you have time, you can see The Law in These Parts, about military law and how the law works in occupied territory, with a focus on Israel.

Emad: By the way, the decision to build wall was the decision by the Israeli court. They can’t just make a government decision, the court has to sign off. It’s a huge subject, we could talk about it all day.

What do you think about the future of Israel?

Guy: I don’t need to speak about the future of Israel because it is already very bad. The future we have now was put into motion 10 years ago – and what we have now is horrible. We are living in an oppressive, violent society. Our rights are being taken day by day, there are new laws and new legislation targeting human rights organizations and freedom of speech. What is happening right now is worse than before. And what’s stupid about it is that Israel is in one of the best positions to create a wonderful new thing. With Palestine, all the conditions are there. In 10 years, we won’t talk about suicide bombers, because there is a period now where we can change that. But these are opportunities we don’t use and we are building the conditions for more violence. It’s hard to be Israeli in these times, I think because many people that I know, even people who are not politically engaged or didn’t care much for Palestinian issues, they feel that there is something going that is destructive in our society. And because we are so indifferent and numb in an emotional position as Israelis, we are paying for that and we are going to keep paying for that. That’s why I can be optimistic – we’re really at a bottom in our culture.

I cannot estimate how unknown forces and undercurrents will create change. We have a very strong social movement in Israel, last summer, a lot like the Arab Spring. But we don’t know how that will develop.

We’re always speaking about peace and about justice. If we’re speaking about justice we’re already good. In order to have peace, Palestinians have to live with a sense of justice, which is hard, because some things are unfixable. But for Israelis we don’t just need to confront how to create justice in theory, they have to want to heal themselves as a society. I think Israelis and Jews took a moment in their lives to wallow in their past and wallow in fears that are both justified and unjustified. We have to find a way to heal from our fears and from our past. We have to find a way to remove these destructive forces from the inside. That’s why I find the film & Emad an inspiration – he’s a victim of the occupation, but he still makes a beautiful thing out of it. Israelis, with our past and with our history, we couldn’t create a beautiful thing. And that’s very sad.

Emad, what do you think about the future of Palestine?

Emad: The Palestinian people decided to struggle against the occupation to get freedom – so it’s a long time for the Palestinian people and a long time for resistance – 60 years of resistance and struggle against the occupation. The people, they still have hope and think this is the only way they can get freedom – it is through resistance. It is about the future for their boys. I think for everyone who wants to create a new future for his boys, we believe and we have hope that we can do this. The only thing I can say for sure about the Palestinian is future is that no one knows what will happen. We always have hope for the situation and good luck, so we make things like films, so maybe we can affect or do something good for the future. And all of this is part of the resistance. It’s not just to make films, or play games – it’s not easy to make something like in a risky situation. This is what we are doing to create and make a good life in the future, we can do this and succeed. But nobody knows when and nobody knows what is coming up, good or bad. But I think that the Israeli government, they react like this because they didn’t care about creating good situations and a good life or future for Israeli residents. I think they have fear, they think something big will happen, so all they want to do is buy more time. This is not the right way to create a good life for the people. They don’t want to give Palestinians rights or a state, because they think it is an issue of security – if we give them power, in the future they will attack us. So they are always scared.

And Guy, what do you think is the future of Palestine?

Guy: These are hard questions. I can say what I wish for Palestine, while thinking that the occupation will stay, and what wishes I have for Palestinians. Unfortunately, I don’t see the occupation retreating. I don’t have any evidence of reversing that process being a possibility – it would be wishful thinking to say otherwise. So what I wish for Palestinians in that situation is to provide inspirational ways to handle this situation, to find ways to get out of their despair and of their misery and their sense of dependence, and their sense of helplessness, and that feeling of helplessness, because I don’t think they are helpless and they don;t have to be victims. The Israelis and the Israeli government are putting them in the role of victims, but they don’t have to play that role in life. When I look at Emad and Bil’in, they chose not to be victims. And to do that in their lives, knowing there may not be change.

I wish that more people would find faith to do that.

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