Palestinian filmmaker detained at LAX

Emad Burnat

Emad Burnat

Palestinian director Emad Burnat and his family were detained and threatened with deportation by U.S. immigration officials when they arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on Feb. 19 to attend the Academy Awards ceremony later that week. His film, “5 Broken Cameras,” received an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature, marking the first such nomination for a Palestinian’s film.

Immigration officials demanded Burnat produce permits and identification, refusing to believe that a Palestinian could be invited to such a distinguished event, or his film nominated for an Oscar, even after Burnat showed them his invitation.

Burnat contacted filmmaker Michael Moore, who called officials at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, which produces the Oscars, and demanded Burnat’s release. After being held and questioned for 90 minutes, Burnat and his family were told that they were free to go. There were no apologies.

Explaining his ordeal to the Huffington Post the next day, Burnet said, “Although this was an unpleasant experience, this is a daily occurrence for Palestinians, every single day, throughout the West Bank. There are more than 500 Israeli checkpoints, roadblocks and other barriers to movement across our land, and not a single one of us has been spared the experience that my family and I experienced yesterday. Ours was a very minor example of what my people face every day.”

Burnat is a farmer who lives in the West Bank village of Bil’in. In 2005, he obtained a video camera to record the birth and early life of his son, Gibreel. Then, Israelis began to build a “security wall,” with military backing — and U.S. approval — right in the middle of the village’s land. Half of Bil’in’s land would be confiscated.

The people of Bil’in launched a strong struggle against the wall, facing Israeli bulldozers, soldiers and settlers, and meeting with intense violence, imprisonment and even death.

Burnat began to record on film their inspiring struggle. As he explained in the documentary, “These are my five cameras. Each one is an episode of my life. When something happens in the village, my instinct is to film it.”

On the first day, Burnat’s original camera was destroyed by an Israeli gas bomb while he was filming the attack on the villagers. For seven years, he recorded the villagers’ struggle, even being beaten and jailed by the Israeli military as his cameras were smashed.

As PBS NewsHour describes it, “Along the way, one camera after another — five in all — were destroyed. Each became a kind of chapter in the story.” (Feb. 22)

Burnat enlisted Israeli filmmaker and activist Guy Davidi to be the film’s co-director. Le Trio Joubran, a band made up of three Palestinian brothers, performed the music for the movie.

Davidi and Burnat have had to contend with Zionist propaganda, including in the motion picture industry. When Academy officials stated that this film came from Israel and refused to recognize the nation of Palestine, the directors firmly refuted that.

“For me, it was important to create this film and to work on [it] for seven years, to follow the characters and follow my son, to create this piece of art, to show the world and show the people outside [Israel], what’s the reality in Palestine, and what’s going on, what is the truth,” Burnat told the Hollywood Reporter on Feb. 20.

The film has won many prestigious awards, including an Outstanding Feature award at the Annual Cinema Eye Honors in January, the World Cinema Directing award at the Sundance Film Festival last year, and others at major European film festivals. Moore showed it at his Traverse City film festival.

In another Hollywood Reporter piece, Moore gave his take on this documentary. He said, “I’ve watched this film twice at the Jewish Community Center here in Manhattan, with a primarily Jewish-American audience, and people are visibly moved and shaken by what they’ve seen. And it’s very powerful. You really see what film can do to take people who had a position when they came in, and when they left, they felt something different. It’s very powerful.” (Feb. 20)

This courageous documentary is one that all progressive people should see.