In 2003-04, after Israel began construction of its 425-mile security fence in the West Bank, a Middle East Affairs listserv I belonged to at the time, started circulating news tips, alerts, and sources for those of us interested in developing stories.
One news alert was a catalog of hardships faced by Palestinians as a consequence of the fence, culled from various news sources. Farmers on the West Bank were angry that they could not lead their sheep to pasture or harvest their olive and guava trees because Israel's new fence separated them from their land.
There was a quote from a Palestinian farmer that burrowed under my skin. "Can somebody intervene here? We cannot get through the Israeli fence to our land. All the sheep owned by the village are going to starve. Many of our ewes have miscarried. We cannot bear to watch. You know when birds get stuck in oil slicks or whales get beached, everybody rushes to help them. Maybe helping the Palestinians is complicated. But if the world could help the sheep, that should be simple ..."
As easy as that seemed, we in America didn't have "the bandwidth" to take this on. We were trying to make sense of our own confounding adventure in Iraq--bomb a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 to avenge 9/11, and seed democracy there, for freedom to bloom like cactus flowers--in the manure of 48 hour mushroom clouds and loamy yellowcake from Niger.
In the face of international media indifference, the Palestinian people decided to start telling their own stories of living under occupation. One of those stories, a film, has been nominated for an a Academy Award this year for Best Documentary Feature. 5 Broken Cameras is an astonishing film by a Palestinian farmer from Bilin, a village in the West Bank.
In 2005, the farmer, Emad Burnat, bought a video camera to record the birth of his youngest son, Gibreel. He soon became the village videographer and chronicler of Bilin's communal life. From 2005 to 2011, he began filming Bilin's non-violent weekly demonstrations against Israel's wall construction with a succession of five cameras. Each became a casualty of war--collateral damage--broken by angry Jewish settlers, by the Israeli military, with fists, bullets, and tear gas canisters. This is a David and Goliath story where David doesn't have a slingshot or a stone and Goliath has the full arsenal of gleaming military hardware.
Doe-eyed Gibreel is a new born at the beginning of the film. By the end of it, he has witnessed more violence, pain, and loss than any six year old should ever have to endure. "The only protection I can offer him is allowing him to see everything with his own eyes so he can confront just how vulnerable life is," Mr. Burnat says at the end of the film, as Gibreel grieves the death of someone he loved--Baseem Abu Rahme, aka Phil, the village's gentle giant.
Phil was killed by an Israeli soldier while the people of Bilin, joined by Israeli and international peace activists, were testing the experiment of non-violent resistance started by Mahatma Gandhi, continued by Nelson Mandela, and carried on by Martin Luther King Jnr.