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"Ich bin ein Bil'iner!"

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Source: Gush Shalom

Guy Davidi, Israeli director of "5 Broken Cameras," in Bi'lin. (Photo by Tomer Appelbaum)

THIS DOES not happen every day: a Minister of Culture publicly rejoices because a film from her country has NOT been awarded an Oscar. And not just one film, but two.

It happened this week. Limor Livnat, still Minister of Culture in the outgoing government, told Israeli TV she was happy that Israel's two entries for Oscars in the category of documentary films, which made it to the final four, did lose in the end.

Livnat, one of the most extreme Likud members, has little chance of being included in the diminishing number of Likud ministers in the next government. Perhaps her outburst was meant to improve her prospects.

Not only did she attack the two films, but she advised the semi-official foundations which finance Israeli films to exercise "voluntary self-censorship and deprive such unpatriotic films of support, thus making sure that they will not be produced at all.

THE TWO documentaries in question are very different in character.

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One, The Gatekeepers, is a collection of testimonies by six successive chiefs of the General Security Service, Israel's internal intelligence agency, variously known by its Hebrew initials Shin Bet or Shabak. In the US its functions are performed by the FBI. (The Mossad is the equivalent of the CIA.)

All six service chiefs are harshly critical of the Israeli prime ministers and cabinet ministers of the last decades. They accuse them of incompetence, stupidity and worse.

The other film, 5 Broken Cameras, tells the story of the weekly protest demonstrations against the "separation" fence in the village of Bil'in, as viewed through the cameras of one of the villagers.

One may wonder how two films like these made it to the top of the Academy awards in the first place. My own (completely unproven) conjecture is that the Jewish academy members voted for their selection without actually seeing them, assuming that an Israeli film could not be un-kosher. But when the pro-Israeli lobby started a ruckus, the members actually viewed the films, shuddered, and gave the top award to Searching for Sugar Man.

I HAVE not yet had a chance to see The Gatekeepers. In spite of that, I am not going to write about it.

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However, I have seen 5 Broken Cameras several times -- both in the cinema and on the ground.

Limor Livnat treated it as an "Israeli" film. But that designation is rather problematical.

First of all, unlike other categories, documentaries are not listed according to nationality. So it was not, officially, "Israeli."

Second, one of its two co-producers protested vehemently against this designation. For him, this is a Palestinian film.

As a matter of fact, any national designation is problematical. All the material was filmed by a Palestinian, Emad Burnat. But the co-editor, Guy Davidi, who put the filmed material into its final shape, is Israeli. Much of the financing came from Israeli foundations. So it would be fair to say that it is a Palestinian-Israeli co-production.

This is also true for the "actors": the demonstrators are both Palestinians and Israelis. The soldiers are, of course, Israelis. Some of members of the Border Police are Druze (Arabs belonging to a marginal Islamic sect.)

When the last of Emad Burnat's sons was born, he decided to buy a simple camera in order to document the stages of the boy's growing up. He did not yet dream of documenting history. But he took his camera with him when he joined the weekly demonstrations in his village. And from then on, every week.

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Uri Avnery is a longtime Israeli peace activist. Since 1948 has advocated the setting up of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In 1974, Uri Avnery was the first Israeli to establish contact with PLO leadership. In 1982 he was the first Israeli ever to meet Yassir Arafat, after crossing the lines in besieged Beirut. He served three terms in the Israeli (more...)

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