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Israel’s latest threat — the silver screen

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The JTA has a report up today bemoaning the reception Israel is receiving at this year’s Sundance film festival. Matthew Weinstein says “the views of Israel range from critical to abysmal.”

Weinstein reviews two documentaries — Five Broken Cameras and The Law in These Parts:

Five Broken Cameras” is West Bank resident Emad Burnat’s chronicle of life in his Palestinian village of Bil’in from 2005 to 2010. Burnat, who serves as narrator, director and cinematographer, documents on video the town’s campaign of legal action and weekly demonstrations against the West Bank security fence and Jewish settlements being built on Bil’in’s land, as well as the impact of the protest movement on his wife and four young children. The film, which won two awards in November at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, was co-directed by Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi.

How badly does Israel comes off in this one? Think Bull Connor’s cops in Birmingham, Ala., except that instead of attacking protesters with fire hoses and police dogs, the authorities use rubber-coated bullets, stun grenades and tear gas canisters.

We witness a protest leader, a local resident known as Phil who just minutes earlier was yelling at villagers to stop throwing stones, struck in the chest by an Israeli tear gas canister and killed during one of the weekly protests. We see an Israeli soldier calmly aim and fire a rubber-coated bullet at close range into the leg of a protester who already has been arrested and handcuffed and is waiting to be loaded into a van. We see the Israel Defense Forces come in the middle of the night to wake up families and arrest their preteen sons who had been identified as participating in the protests.

The film is one-sided and the impact is devastating. No mention is made of the more than 1,000 Israelis who died in Palestinian terrorist attacks in the decade before there was a West Bank security fence, no mention of the soldier who lost an eye in 2005 when he was struck by a rock thrown by a Bil’in resident. We never hear an Israeli commander explain why the IDF chose its tactics.

But because Bil’in’s residents eschew guns and bombs and attract so many Jewish Israelis to their side, and because the IDF response appears on screen as disproportionate, the documentary is damning.

It’s not just the documentary. Israel’s own Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the security fence illegally impeded on Bil’in’s land and ordered about two miles of the fence rerouted. It took until 2011 for the IDF to comply, following additional years of protests and successful contempt-of-court lawsuits against the IDF over the delay. In all, Bil’in recovered about 170 acres.

“The Law in These Parts” offers a much different look at essentially the same issue. The film is an interrogation — literally — of the military-run legal system of justice that Israel established in the West Bank and Gaza Strip following the 1967 Six-Day War. Made by Ra’anan Alexandrowicz, whose previous works include “The Inner Tour” and “James’ Journey to Jerusalem,” the movie consists almost entirely of interviews with the Israelis, now quite old, who had established the system and run it over the years.

Some of the revelations are shocking. One judge acknowledges that “of course” he knew about torture, contradicting the findings of various Israeli investigative commissions. Alexandrowicz takes us inside the meetings where they developed the legal justifications for controversial practices such as indefinite detentions and land confiscation for settlements.

And this is say nothing at all of the upcoming Israeli/Iranian proxy war to be fought at this year’s Oscars!

Adam Horowitz

Adam Horowitz is Executive Editor of

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3 Responses

  1. Tuyzentfloot on January 25, 2012, 2:07 pm

    And this is say nothing at all of the upcoming Israeli/Iranian proxy war to be fought at this year’s Oscars! Well maybe you should :) I’m not convinced abut ‘proxy war’ they’re talking about. So there’s an israeli movie. The iranian movie can be regarded as anti-iran(censors, woman wants to leave the country), and there is a holocaust movie. So it’s either 3-0 or 2-1 depending.

  2. Henry Norr on January 25, 2012, 3:25 pm

    The NY Times ran a long and surprisingly favorable review of “5 Broken Cameras” the other day, written by – wait for it… – Ethan Bronner! It includes a brief discussion of some controversy around the film among Palestinians: apparently some have criticized Burnat of “normalization” for working with an Israeli co-director and Greenhouse, an Israeli NGO, to make the film.

    I also came across a review, in both prose and video, by a young woman named Mali Elfman, at a site called It’s an odd appreciation – never once mentions Israel, uses the word Palestinian only once, to identify Burnat, and seems to present the struggle simply as a rural village trying to preserve itself in the face of encroaching suburban development – yet Ms. Elfman was obviously deeply moved by the film, and I found her video in particular quite affecting.

  3. Henry Norr on January 25, 2012, 3:56 pm

    Sorry to be shilling for the NY Times today, but I just discovered a 10-minute version of “The Law in These Parts” posted as an “op-doc” on their site, under the title “The Justice of Occupation.” I trust the full film is more persuasive – I regret to say I don’t think this abbreviated version will convince anyone of anything.

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