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'Five Broken Cameras': The View From the Other Side
August 24, 2013  | By Eric Gould

One day, there is the countryside and olive groves. The next, there are bulldozers, construction crews, and eventually, a military-style security fence. It is now illegal territory, and if you live there and try to cross, or demonstrate in protest, it is likely you will be beaten and gassed.

Those are some of the unpleasant realities for residents of the occupied territory of the West Bank, as recounted in the new POV documentary Five Broken Cameras, airing Monday, August 26, on PBS at 10 p.m. ET (check local listings).

The documentary, filmed by resident Emad Burnat and produced in collaboration with Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi, was shot over seven years, beginning in 2005. The title refers to the number of cameras Burnat used to make the film, needing multiple replacements when his equipment was destroyed by Israeli Defense Forces as he filmed protests at the fences partitioning West Bank residents from the new settlements being built there.

Five Broken Cameras can't claim, and doesn't claim, to be objective journalism – there is no mention of rocket attacks on Israeli cities or Palestinian suicide bombers. Burnat and his friends never discuss Jordan and Egypt signing peace treaties with Israel, or that by signing them, their Arab neighbors signaled that the sovereignty of the West Bank was not a significant first-step to larger-scale diplomacy and security concerns.

POV, the venerable PBS series, stands for Point of View. And for this particularly depressing subject, a hand-held, single-sided view exploring this bitter place is an apt method. (POV explored the dilemmas and contradictions of the Israeli military courts in last week's documentary, The Law in These Parts. That film looked, in part, at the legal system allowing the settlements in the West Bank to continue.)

Surprising to many viewers will be the wide-open pastoral life of the West Bank, a seemingly tiny dot on the map, where subsistence farming is the way of life in many villages. Children play soccer and video games like any other kids. (Burnat's son Gibreel is at one of the concrete settlement walls, top photo). There are many moments when life seems queerly normal and mundane.

Just as surprising are the Israelis who come to help organize protests with the Palestinians. Burnat's village of Bil'in gained international attention when the Modi'in-llit settlement cut off local farmlands there.

But perhaps most startling are the harsh riot-control tactics by Israeli Defense Forces, many of which Burnat gets on videotape. Tear gas grenades rain down by the dozens, and rubber bullets are routinely sprayed at protesters. There are nighttime raids and arrests. It's hard to witness the methods, and then think back to little more than a half-century ago and the ghettos of Warsaw.

Creating peace out of hatred in the Middle East will require sacrifices and compromises on both sides. It is a process that will require courage and trust. And understanding.

It's there, maybe, that television can help. There have been countless specials and documentaries on the conflicts between Israel and its neighbors. Yet Five Broken Cameras, in its own small way, gives American audiences something they don't often get: the simple point of view of life on the other side.

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