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Watching, and experiencing, ‘Five Broken Cameras’ in Bil’in

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Alice Rothchild is currently traveling on the Dorothy Cotton Institute delegation to Israel/Palestine. For her last post from the delegation see here.

The last time I went to Bil’in was in January 2011 for a frightening, exhilarating tear gas filled Friday demonstration against the wall. This time, not only did we arrive on a Wednesday, (no demonstrations), but conditions have changed dramatically, though not barely enough. From Birzeit we headed southwest, past the infamous Ofer Prison in the distance, through stunning rugged, rocky landscape, terraced with silvery olive trees, contrasting dark green figs, up and down ear popping hills, winding through tiny towns with tall thin minnerets, lush fuscia colored bouganvia, mansions built by wealthy US Palestinians erupting from the hillsides. As we approach the tiny town of Bil’in, the Jewish settlement of Modi’in Illit appears like a mirage in the distance, a haze of tall apartment buildings dominating miles of hilltops. This is as close to a pilgrimage as I get.

We are met by Iyad Burnat, the brother of the man featured in the recently released film, Five Broken Cameras. Smart, focused, handsome, and deeply committed to nonviolent civil disobedience, he takes us through the area of the previous demonstrations, now littered with tear gas cannisters and other military detritus. His young daughter gradually warms up to her latest guests, smiling for photos, and holding onto her father. Ironically Caterpillar bulldozers are rebuilding the terraces and farming areas that were destroyed by the previous wall, ie, the high security fence, sensors, and military roads. This was built to separate the town of Bil’in from the rapidly expanding settlement of Modi’in Illit, simultaneously stealing much of the land belonging to the village.

In some strange way this feels like sacred space, where unarmed men and women, local villagers and internationals, famous leaders and unknown teenagers, people chanting, singing, yelling, beating drums, waving flags, faced down one of the most powerful, aggressive military powers in the world and won a small significant victory. Now that the wall has been taken down, I see a playground with brightly colored slides and climbing structures, near completion by the side of the road. Such dangerous terrorists these villagers! Imagine building a playground. What will they think of next? What a strange mix of bizarre and extreme. What an immense tragedy for the Palestinians fighting this battle and for the soldiers so brutalized that they are able to fire and beat and tear gas and violate unarmed civilians: just following orders.

While Iyad described the popular struggle, the violent response from the Israeli military, the horrific cost to the villagers and their families, I walked along the current wall, this one concrete with double rows of wide loops of barbed wire beside the off limits military road. The cranes from Modi’in were easily visible over the wall, the struggle is far from over, the land grab continues all over the West Bank.

Filled with emotion, horror, encouragement, we gather in Iyad’s living room, meet his four friendly children and gracious wife serving thick Arabic coffee followed by painfully sweet tea. They have spent seven years building this house and recently moved in. He turns on the VCR and we find ourselves watching Five Broken Cameras, reliving the stories, the violated landscape, the spirited villagers,the brutality of the soldiers. It is surreal and almost too painful to bear.

The conversation afterwards, however, is powerful and inspiring. Iyad is focused on teaching and building a nonviolent movement for civil action throughout the territories. Other villages are joining the struggle. He will be touring with the film in the US shortly. He is absolutely clear that he is not fighting the Jews, he is not fighting for a few more dunams of farm land, he is fighting the occupation. He is not only doing this for himself, but for his four children who have grown up tasting tear gas and fearing Israelis. He is determined to create a better life for all of them.

Alice Rothchild
About Alice Rothchild

Alice Rothchild is a physician, author, and filmmaker who has focused her interest in human rights and social justice on the Israel/Palestine conflict since 1997. She practiced ob-gyn for almost 40 years. Until her retirement she served as Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Harvard Medical School. She writes and lectures widely, is the author of Broken Promises, Broken Dreams: Stories of Jewish and Palestinian Trauma and Resilience, On the Brink: Israel and Palestine on the Eve of the 2014 Gaza Invasion, and Condition Critical: Life and Death in Israel/Palestine. She directed a documentary film, Voices Across the Divide and is active in Jewish Voice for Peace. Follow her at @alicerothchild

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3 Responses

  1. seafoid
    seafoid on October 18, 2012, 10:33 am

    “through stunning rugged, rocky landscape, terraced with silvery olive trees, contrasting dark green figs, up and down ear popping hills, winding through tiny towns with tall thin minnerets, lush fuscia colored bougainvillia”

    When I lived there I thought Palestine was as beautiful as Tuscany and that with the right mental shift on the part of the chosen people it could become as revered.

    • sandhillexit
      sandhillexit on October 18, 2012, 5:55 pm

      I agree. The walls, the whole Eastern Europeanization of the land, is a crime against beauty. It is no great accomplishment to create such physical and spiritual ugliness.

  2. seafoid
    seafoid on October 18, 2012, 2:18 pm

    Inflammable material is planted in my head
    It’s a suspect device that has left 2000 dead
    Their solutions are our problems
    They put up the wall
    On each side time and prime us
    And make sure we get fuck all
    They play their games of power
    They mark and cut the pack
    They deal us to the bottom
    But what do they put back?

    Don’t believe them
    Don’t believe them
    Don’t be bitten twice
    You gotta suss, suss, suss, suss, suss out
    Suss suspect device

    They take away our freedom
    In the name of liberty
    Why don’t they all just clear out
    Why don’t they let us be
    They make us feel indebted
    For saving us from hell
    And then they put us through it
    It’s time the bastards fell


    Don’t believe them
    Don’t believe them
    Question everything you’re told
    Just take a look around you
    At the bitterness and spite
    Why can’t we take over and try to put it right


    We’re a suspect device if we do what we are told
    But a suspect device can score an own goal
    I’m a suspect device the Army can’t defuse
    You’re a suspect device they know they can’t refuse
    We’re gonna blow up in their face

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