Occupation and Resistance Through the Eyes of a Child: “Five Broken Cameras”

Emad Burnat’s and Guy Davidi’s moving documentary Five Broken Cameras follows two interconnected narrative trajectories. First, the film documents the West Bank village Bil’in’s multi-year protest campaign against the expansion of Israeli-Jewish towns onto village farmland. Second, the film traces the childhood of the director’s young son Jibril, who is an infant at the beginning of the film and quietly witnesses the protests as he ages. Jibril provides a child’s-eye view of occupation and resistance and serves as a case-study of the effects of the ongoing conflict on Palestinian children.

In its realist portrayal of the protests and the Israeli response, Five Broken Cameras follows the recent documentary Budrus, which documents anti-occupation protests in another West Bank village. Like the earlier film, Five Broken Cameras includes a great deal of amateur footage of marches, rallies, and creative acts of civil disobedience. Both films emphasize the Israeli army’s violent repression of the protests (Israeli troops or settlers break four of the second film’s five titular cameras).

Whereas Budrus focuses on the centrality of women to anti-occupation protests, Five Broken Cameras examines the  place of children. In an early scene, a loudspeaker calls “young and old” villagers to a protest, and underage boys attend many marches and rallies. Like their adult counterparts, the child protesters suffer from the Israeli military response to the protests. The film’s most disturbing sequences include the funeral of Ahmad Musa, a ten year old boy who died after an Israeli Border Police officer shot him during a protest at another West Bank village, and the late-night arrest of a sobbing pre-adolescent boy in Bil’in.

Jibril’s parents allow (and even encourage) their young son to witness such violence, a decision that the film discusses at length. In one sequence, the toddler sits alone in a parked car and watches Israeli soldiers chase protestors away from the “separation wall” that runs between Bil’in and an adjacent Israeli-Jewish town. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jibril’s first words include “jaish” (army) and “jidar” (wall). In another scene, the boy interrogates his father about a family friend’s death in a recent protest. “Why did the soldiers kill Phil?”  the boy asks, “Why don’t you kill all of the soldiers with a knife?”. Jibril is five years old at the close of the film, but it is clear that occupation and resistance have deeply affected his psyche.

Five Broken Cameras is currently screening in New York City and opens next week in California, Florida, Massachusetts, and New Mexico.

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