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First-Hand Accounts 

An award-winning documentary takes you inside the West Bank

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The conflict between Israel and Palestine is not a simple one. In fact, most people have little, if any, understanding of why there has been so much strife for so long in that region. This is, in part, because we haven’t seen many first-hand accounts from the people engaged in the struggle.

In recent years, though, as citizens of even underdeveloped regions begin to incorporate the personal video camera into their everyday life, that is changing, and that’s what we see with Emad Burnat’s footage in the award-winning documentary Five Broken Cameras.

The film features Burnat’s mostly grainy handheld video as he becomes the unofficial documentarian of Bilin, a West Bank village within sight of growing Israeli settlements that are gradually encroaching on land that has long been farmed by Burnat’s family. He films Bilin’s weekly nonviolent protests near a fence being constructed on what they consider their ancestral land; and, along the way, he keeps a timeline with how many cameras have been destroyed — whether by Israeli soldiers or by mere wear and tear.

This week, the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane (PJALS) is presenting a screening of Five Broken Cameras, the aptly titled film that Burnat pieced together along with the help of Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi.

Maryann Torres, a retired social worker and active PJALS volunteer, has traveled to embattled areas of the West Bank twice, including a trip to Bilin in May of this year. Spearheading the screening of this film, she hopes to give residents of Spokane a look into an otherwise rarely told story happening a world away.

“We want people to first of all see Palestinians as human beings who are struggling against something that’s much bigger than they are,” says Torres, 67, who first became interested in the issue while studying at UC-Berkley.

“Sometimes it appears to be a hopeless struggle,” she says, “but what they can take away from this film is that it’s not hopeless.”

Again, the situation between Israel and Palestine is about as complex and contentious as any foreign conflict on the planet, but the film — full of first-hand and sometimes shocking footage of protesters being arrested, beaten and targeted with tear gas — is also a lesson in nonviolent protest. In addition, we see Burnat’s courage as he often stands in the middle of the protests within reach of armed soldiers. Eventually, he even keeps the camera rolling as soldiers come to arrest him.

Torres says that all too often, the peaceful resistance, like we see in Five Broken Cameras, is overshadowed by the violent actions that make the news (if it make the news in the U.S. at all.) In the end, the film shows the possibilities of such protests and persistence as we see actual progress being made.

“We hope that this film is one more tool in helping people understand this issue,” says Torres. 

Five Broken Cameras • Thu, Sept. 20 at 7 pm • $7 • Magic Lantern Theatre • 25 W. Main Ave. • pjals.org

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