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Oscar documentary contender on Palestinians angers many
First Published Feb 12 2013 10:53 am • Last Updated Feb 13 2013 09:43 am

BILIN, West Bank • An Oscar-nominated documentary about this West Bank hamlet has managed to infuriate people on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide.

In Israel, some are asking why the government helped fund a film so scathing in its criticism of its own policies, while Palestinians are shocked that the film is winning accolades for being "Israeli."

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"5 Broken Cameras" is the story of a yearslong struggle by residents of Bilin to wrest their village lands back from Israel’s military.

The title refers to the number of cameras that the main protagonist, Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat, had broken by Israeli forces as he sought to film weekly demonstrations against the military. Residents were protesting the seizure of about half the village lands to construct a separation barrier running through parts of the West Bank.

The $400,000 documentary was made with contributions from Israeli and French government film funds. It is the latest in a series of well-received movies that are highly critical of Israeli government policies toward the Palestinians, yet also funded with state money.

Another Israeli-funded documentary, "The Gatekeepers," has also been nominated for an Oscar.

That film interviews the former heads of Israel’s internal security service about how they suppressed Palestinians over the decades in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Their message is that military force has its limits, and that ultimately Israel must take advantage of its military superiority to seek peace.

The projects expose a contradiction in Israeli society. While the military rules over millions of Palestinians, the government funds a vibrant arts scene that is often scathing in its criticism of official policy. Many here wonder why the government would want to be party to projects that make it look so bad.

Almagor, a right-wing Israeli group that represents families who have lost loved ones to Palestinian violence, described the film as "incitement." It said the documentary demonizes Israeli soldiers and at times is anti-Semitic.

Others, though, say such films are a badge of honor. Danny Danon, a hard-line member of the ruling Likud Party, said funding critical movies underscores the vibrancy of Israel’s democracy, even if it provides ammunition for critics.


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"I think there will be groups who are against Israel no matter what," Danon said. "This is one example of the price of keeping a strong democracy. We are not interfering in the contents of the movies that are being produced in Israel."

The office of Culture Minister Limor Livnat, which oversees the funds that distribute grants to filmmakers, declined comment. Livnat is also a Likud member.

The documentary’s protagonists are dismayed that the film is affiliated with Israel. Even though the Academy does not classify nominees in the documentary feature category by country, Israeli officials have pitched "5 Broken Cameras" as their own at the Oscars.

Palestinians said they did not want Israelis to take credit for a film that documents how they have suffered at the hands of the military.

"They say it’s an Israeli film. It is not an Israeli film," said taxi driver Adib Abu-Rahmeh, who is in the documentary. "Are the people in the film Israelis? The people who suffered, who were shot, who were arrested, who were hurt, were they Israelis?"

Davidi, the film’s Israeli partner, rejected the criticism. He said the movie should be seen for what it is: A human portrayal of the village residents.

"For me, documentaries have no identities," he said. "Here are the facts: The film is a Palestinian-Israeli-French co-production with a Palestinian and Israeli director," he added.

He said he would like people to stick with the facts and not get into a territorial fight on the identity of the film.

"The film tells the story of Emad and the nonviolent movement in Bilin, and that’s what’s important" Davidi said.

The struggle is viewed through the eyes of Burnat’s wide-eyed son Gibreel, whose first birthday coincides with the start of protests and whose childhood is shaped by demonstrations, soldiers and families fraying under pressure.

"I had an idea of the film, that it should be about my family, about ordinary things, to make the film closer to the people," Burnat told The Associated Press.

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