Five Broken Cameras is a story of how a community is gradually dispossessed by a greater power. It tells the story of Israel’s creeping and illegal occupation of Palestinian land. And it shows how the Palestinians are effectively treated by their Israeli occupiers as non-people with no rights or say over their land, their livelihoods or their lives.
After graduating in 1986, I spent a couple of months working as a volunteer at Kibbutz Hagoshrim, located just 1km from the Lebanese border in northern Israel.
While we were there, my then girlfriend and I toured the country and parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank to educate ourselves about one of the world’s most enduring conflicts. Our travels took us to Metula, effectively a frontier town on the Lebanese border in the north, as well as to Haifa, Nazareth, Tiberius, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho, the Dead Sea and Eilat in the south.
What we saw convinced us that Israel’s occupation and colonisation of Palestinian land, and the lot of non-Jews (ie. Arab Israelis) in Israel itself, was not only a terrible injustice, but seemed conceived specifically to drive the Palestinians insane with fury.
Palestinians were daily confronted with road-blocks in their own land, with property taken from them at will with the assistance of an implacable ‘Jewish’ state. While we were based in Palestinian east Jerusalem, the ongoing attrition of enforced evictions – in which Palestinian families were ordered to leave their homes in sudden, early-morning raids to make way for Israeli settlers – was a hot news topic.
Of course, Israel’s colonisation of Palestinian land has developed apace since then, a process which I have followed from afar. But I find the absence of morality and the cynical, calculating nature of Israel’s ethnic cleansing and creeping land-grab so infuriating that it’s difficult to stay engaged. And that’s because of the overwhelming protection of impunity that Israel enjoys. I
f a white middle-class liberal, such as myself, finds it hard to keep engaged with this issue when thousands of miles away from the scene of the crime, imagine how it must feel for those who are being dispossessed, inch by inch, every day.
To illustrate the point, I bought a copy of Marwan Bishara’s Palestine/Israel: Peace or Apartheid several years ago to get to grips with the build-up to the Second Intifada, only to put it down again just 25 pages in because of the futile rage it provoked in me. So far, I’ve not returned to it.
So it was with more than a little trepidation that, thanks to a friend of mine here in Broadstairs, I finally sat down to watch Five Broken Cameras, which shows how the West Bank village of Bil’in, threatened by the Apartheid Wall and encroaching Jewish settlements – illegal under international law – stood up and fought the Israeli machine.
It is, like Bishara’s book, both powerful and one of the most anger-provoking films you could wish to watch, if you’re interested at all in any sense of natural justice.
I’ve written before about Israel’s creeping colonisation and annexation of Palestinian land. What I haven’t addressed is the tacit support of Britain’s Jewish establishment, and the rabid support of the Jewish lobby in the US, where it is almost a treasonable offence to question Israel’s right to take from the Palestinians whatever it wishes.
Given the inhumanity and iconic nature of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the role it plays in Islamic radicalisation, how is it that so many Jews here in the West can stay silent – therefore, by default, providing tacit support Israel’s fait accompli?
This is puzzling to me given the Jewish community’s vibrant and generous contributions to debate and political life. Surely, if you’re concerned with morality, then you’d also be aware of the consequences of your actions, or lack thereof: the Palestinians’ apparent lack of a right to exist. Surely, also, you’d take stock if there was any danger at all that Israel is doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to the Jews.
There are, of course, plenty of Jews who detest Israel and its claim to be protecting their ‘homeland’. I know one or two personally who are vociferous in renouncing their ‘rights’ to that land. Jews for Justice for Palestinians also claim that Israel’s human rights abuses have corrupted the humanitarian principles of Judaism.
I think they’re right, but I’d go further than that and say Israel has corrupted Zionism, a term for a set of philosophical ideas which, before the First World War, were unconcerned with creating a nation-state on Palestinian territory and excluding non-Jews in the process.
Meanwhile, many within the Jewish establishment appear still to be fighting Israel’s PR battles of the 1980s, claiming that it is merely exercising its right to self-defence against violent fundamentalists, apparently unaware that – in terms of the land, at least – the battle is pretty much already won.
Religion over humanity
The point is illustrated in today’s Jewish Chronicle, in which Tom Gross defends Arial Sharon as an innocent in the build-up to the Second Intifada. That’s despite his undeniably provocative visit to the Temple Mount in 2000. The article, like so many written in Israel’s defence, seems pitilessly churlish to me, given Sharon’s history – and, specifically, his role in the Sabra and Shatila massacres.
Religion has been at the heart of so much war, misery and suffering over the centuries. At least in ancient times, there was the excuse that news travelled slowly (compared with today) and items of faith were less open to challenge.
But that’s not the case any more: for instance, there’s plenty of evidence and information to betray what the state of Israel has been up to over the last 40 years.
And so the Jewish establishment, that so easily takes for granted the claim to the Holy Land, needs to be asked a question: what god worth worshipping can possibly justify this?