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I’ve come to believe that often the best way both to explain and to understand something is through the telling of a story, preferably a true story (tho ‘truth’ is not always clear and often there are many ‘truths’ about a particular subject).

All of that is by way of introduction to a film and a book, both about Israel, the West Bank, and primarily Arab inhabitants of the area.

Of the two, the film is by far the most powerful and the most authentic as it is the ‘truth’ as seen through the camera of one of its co-directors/authors.  The book, while engaging, has more problems than the film, but it’s also worth the time to read.

5 Broken Cameras *****

Friend Bill Plitt reviewed this documentary a few weeks ago on MillersTime, accurately referring to it as a ‘David and Goliath struggle.’

It is a first person documentary based on filming by Ernad Burnat, a Palestinian farmer, of five years (2005-2010) of his family and also of the largely non-violent protest movement by the West Bank village of Bil’in. A Jewish Israel film-maker, Guy Davidi, has taken what Burnat has captured with his small video cameras and turned it (and some other local video) into both advocacy journalism and a work of art.

The power of 5 Broken Cameras comes through the personal story of Burnat and his family and the villagers of Bil’in.  Not meant to be journalistically balanced (is such a thing ever possible?), it tells the story of one small village’s struggle against the encroachment of high rise sprawl (certainly giving new meaning to the term ‘settlements’) on the land and lives of the Bil’in villagers.

Three generations of Burnats (his father, himself, his brothers and his wife, and his sons, particularly his youngest son Gibreel) are portrayed, and through each of these individuals, we understand what life is like for this family, and probably many other families too.

How Burnat and the other Bil’in villagers were/are (he apparently continues to film after the making of this documentary) able to remain largely non-violent in the face of the Israeli take over of the land and the Israeli soldiers’ increasingly violent treatment of the villagers/protestors is beyond me.

Burnat says he “films to heal,” but how is that possible? How can Burnat and the other villagers ever forget?

He also says, “Forgotten wounds can’t be healed,” and one wonders how or if any of these wounds can ever or should be forgotten.

If you want to gain an understanding of what life is like for West Bank villagers beyond the usual rhetoric and propaganda offered by both sides of this seemingly irresolvable conflict, hasten to see Five Broken Cameras. It is a stunning and unforgettable portrayal by an ordinary individual who simply set out to film the early years of his youngest son’s life. I suspect you will long remember the individuals and the story and truth(s) it tells.

It will be in Washington at least, until Thursday at the West End Cinema and may be extended another week beyond Aug. 9th.


The Attack by Yasmina Khadra (Mohammed Moulessehoul) ***1/2

(Note: this review contains ‘spoilers.’)

This novel tells the story of an Israeli Arab who is a successful surgeon living in and doctoring at a hospital in Tel Aviv. As he finishes saving some lives of individuals who have been wounded in a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, he learns that his wife died in the bombing.

It’s probably not too much of a spoiler to write that his wife was not a victim but a perpetrator of the bombing. Initially, the doctor does not believe that his wife was the bomber, but as he is forced to come to terms with that fact and the fact that he did not know of his wife’s political activities, we read of a man who finds out many things he never knew.

If one can suspend a bit of disbelief on the premise of the novel, there is much in The Attack that is worthy of the reader’s time. The author is a good storyteller and gradually reveals a man who feels himself betrayed and a man who has to come to terms with both personal ignorance(s) and with facing the world he has largely ignored as he has followed his professional life.

As in the film reviewed above, the novel tells a story, and in doing so, its author attempts to portray an aspect of the conflict in Israel that is not usually told –  the lives of the more than one million Israeli Arabs who live and work in Israel.  If this particular story is a bit ‘forced,’ it nonetheless holds the reader as he learns about what the doctor has ignored and what the doctor’s wife has learned.