Israeli Occupation goes to the Oscars - but films carry very different messages
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- Can 'The Gatekeepers' change the way Israelis view the
ByDahlia Scheindlin <http://972mag.com/author/dahlias/>Published
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February 23, 2013 | 1 Comment
By Mairav Zonszein <http://972mag.com/author/mairavz/> |Published February
24, 2013Occupation goes to the Oscars - but films carry very different
*Both Oscar-nominated documentaries from this region are important
documents of Israeli occupation and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in
their own right. But if �The Gatekeepers� wins, it will whitewash
occupation by presenting Israeli guilt in a redeeming light. If �Five
Broken Cameras� wins, it will go beyond the message that what Israel is
doing is wrong and show the world exactly what wrong looks like � and just
how ugly it is.*
Adeeb Abu Rahme, one of the residents of Bil�in who appears in 5 Broken
Cameras, confronts the IDF during a protest in 2007 (Activestills)
and �Five Broken
already succeeded in breaking one of Israel�s biggest taboos: airing out
its dirty laundry on the big screen, for the whole world to see. Now the
two films are both heading to the biggest stage of all: the Academy Awards.
If either one of the films from Israel/Palestine wins in the Best
Documentary category, it will be a symbolic achievement for all those who
believe Israeli government policies and the occupation are untenable and
want to see it held accountable for the violent cycle Israelis and
Palestinians continue to be in.
But there are salient and important differences between the films. Most
obviously, �The Gatekeepers� provides the perspective of the privileged and
powerful occupier, while �5 Broken Cameras� speaks for the powerless and
debilitated occupied. While each film exposes Israel�s systematically
unethical treatment of Palestinians, if either one one is chosen by the
Academy as the winner, it will mean very different things.
�The Gatekeepers,� directed by Israeli filmmaker Dror Moreh, who previously
made a movie about Ariel Sharon and his decision to withdraw from Gaza in
2005, brings together six former Shin Bet agents to expose the moral and
tactical failures in the country�s secret internal security infrastructure.
�5 Broken Cameras� is a documentary jointly directed by Palestinian Emad
Burnat and Israeli Guy Davidi, chronicling the West Bank village Bil�in�s
response to Israel�s construction of the separation wall and routine
Israeli Defense Force harassment and raids.
To make the $1.5 million-film, Moreh had to gain access to some of Israel�s
most elite and authoritative figures on national security. It was filmed in
a polished studio, providing the six interviewees with impeccable make-up
and lighting and includes highly sophisticated digitally recreated archive
To make the $250,000 �5 Broken Cameras,� Burnat pretty much just had to get
hold of a camera and turn it on. It shows rough and at times jumbled
footage shot by Burnat with his five different cameras, all of which are an
objective testament to the damage inflicted by IDF methods over the course
of years of weekly protests in Bil�in.
While both films reflect a different piece of the harsh reality of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they exist in entirely separate political
discourses. �The Gatekeepers� takes place within Israel�s national ethos,
from a conscious place of privilege and power. Palestinians are not really
present in �The Gatekeepers,� except as the legitimate enemy as well as the
The six spymasters who divulge for the first time their involvement in
operations like targeted assassinations and mass arrests, do so out of a
patriotic concern for what Israel has achieved and where it is headed (and
probably political motives, as three out of the six are Israeli politicians
from centrist parties). They all insist that negotiations with Palestinians
are necessary to secure Israel as a Jewish and democratic state long term.
In the context of the right-wing shift in Israeli society and its
increasingly draconian government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
see the film), this may seem like a radical message. However, the argument
that occupation corrupts the occupier and that Israeli military control of
Palestinians is untenable stems from a veteran left-wing Zionist discourse
In this sense, recognition of the film looks like the Academy�s way of
commending Israelis who question and challenge immoral actions they have
taken in the name of national security. This is not as much a condemnation
of the occupation as it is a lamentation of its stain on Israeli democracy.
It in effect applauds Israeli guilt over being the occupying force.
�5 Broken Cameras� is simply a portrayal of life under occupation � a
portrait of a disenfranchised agricultural community in the West Bank
confronted with construction of a wall on their farmlands, uprooted olive
trees, and tear gas and live ammunition at their protests, which have
caused the death of several residents and hundreds of injuries.
The fact that Palestinian co-director Emad Burnat was detained in Los
route to the Oscars on Wednesday is a painfully ironic example of the
starkly different realities Israelis and Palestinians live in, at home and
�5 Broken Cameras,� on the other hand, is a personal Palestinian story,
showing the implications of occupation and its human rights violations on
the very people suffering it. It gives voice to a narrative often
neglected, dismissed or combated � or simply ignored � in Israeli society
So what message would the Academy send by picking one or other of the
films? (Several polls and articles indicate that few expect either one to
take home the Oscar).
If �The Gatekeepers� wins, it will be like the Academy giving the film �
and by extension, Israeli society � a pat on the back for demonstrating
that some of Israel�s most elite security men know how to be
retrospectively self-critical. While that may be a nod toward a more honest
way of viewing Israel, it�s ultimately a cop-out since it still manages to
portray Israel in a redeeming light, and thus stops short of a sea change.
If �5 Broken Cameras� wins, it will amount to symbolic recognition by
mainstream America of the Palestinian narrative as the occupied � and defy
arguments voiced in Israel that it is nothing more than a provocative
Palestinian propaganda film. It will go beyond the message expressed in
�The Gatekeepers� that what Israel is doing is wrong and show the world
what wrong looks like � and just how ugly it is.
*This post was originally published in The
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