Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Plays Out in Oscar Docs

PHOTO: Emad Burnat began filming the constructions of fences and Israeli settlements when his son Gibreel was born in 1995.
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The news came, not surprisingly, as a text message: "We got it."

When Guy Davidi, a filmmaker based in Tel Aviv, received word from New York on his mobile phone that "5 Broken Cameras" had been nominated for an Academy Award, he immediately called his co-director, Emad Burnat, in his Palestinian village on the West Bank.

"Great" was Burnat's response. But then he added he couldn't talk, recalled Davidi. "'My car is stuck in the mud and there's been rain all day, and my family's here, and we're stuck in the mud.'"

"5 Broken Cameras" details the struggles of Burnat, a Palestinian father of four, and his neighbors in the village of Bil'in who, when they aren't farming the land, are practicing nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation. The action starts in 2005, when Burnat's fourth son, Gibreel, is born. Gibreel's birth coincides with the arrival of bulldozers; the Israeli army is continuing to build the wall, now going up in Bil'in, which separates Israel and some of its settlements from the Palestinians, protecting a growing Israeli settlement while dividing the village's land.

Burnat, 41, films the bulldozers, then the wall, the settlers moving in, the Israeli soldiers, a friend being killed by those soldiers, olive trees set afire at night in retaliation for the protests. He begins as an olive farmer who loves cameras, and filming allows him to both participate in and document the demonstrations. "I feel that the camera can protect me and my friends in the protest, to make documentation and use the footage for the Internet," he told ABC News. "But sometimes the camera may be the reason they try to kill you." Five of Burnat's cameras have been destroyed, by rubber bullets, tear gas canisters, jostling that turns violent.

Full List of Nominees

Davidi and Burnat's film is not the only documentary from Israel nominated this year; it shares the stage with "The Gatekeepers," a more formal, stylized documentary that features six of the last seven heads of Israel's Shin Bet – a cross between the CIA and the FBI – recalling their successes and failures overseeing security in the occupied areas and in Israel proper, targeting terrorists and potential terrorists, ordering assassinations.

Both films present a state and its people effectively stuck in the mud, much like Burnat, lacking meaningful communication, understanding, political will to move toward peace. One film is told from the Palestinian side, the other from the Israeli. But each reaches the same conclusion: The occupation must end. It is not only destroying the lives of the people living in the occupied areas, says "Cameras," but, adds "Gatekeepers," it is destroying the moral compass of the state of Israel, and perhaps, ultimately, the state itself.

"These guys come out of a culture in which they are trained to lie and omit, yet what they are saying is devastating," said Stuart Schoffman, a journalist and screenwriter living in Jerusalem who has seen both films, speaking about "Gatekeepers." "'5 Cameras' is an eye-opener: So this is what it's like to be a Palestinian who's attempting to be nonviolent. The soldiers are doing their job, what they're ordered to do. It's extremely unpleasant and tragic for all concerned. The overall import of [the film] is, you are there.

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