’5 Broken Cameras’ a manipulative pro-Palestinian movie.
By J.J Surbeck
LA JOLLA, California –This past weekend (June 22-24), the La Jolla Country Day School launched its first Young Leaders Film Festival. It was marketed to the general public rather than being an internal academic exercise (taking advantage of the fact that school is out during the summer). Four films were presented twice over the weekend. The main theme could be called “Triumph of the Human Spirit” since each film depicted individuals in very adverse circumstances who managed to emerge transformed for the better, or determined not to be beaten down and defeated.
All good and well, at least at first sight. However, among these four films, the organizers had picked one that is set in the treacherous waters of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Again, nothing wrong with that at first glance, except that the film chosen, 5 Broken Cameras, turned out to be resolutely biased and one-sided in favor of the Palestinian side, creating a small flurry of anxiety in the Jewish community.
The LJCDS committee that chose the films realized that they had picked a hot potato in this case, but chose to go ahead nevertheless on the grounds that it was a good topic to debate. The school consequently accepted the offer made by StandWithUs San Diego Chapter Director Audrey Jacobs to have me in my capacity as executive director of Training and Education About the Middle East (TEAM) make a few comments after each screening to bring some balance to the debate. The LJCDS had also invited another speaker, but for unspecified reasons he couldn’t make it. And so it happened that I ended up being the only commentator, even though I would have preferred a panel format, as the school had set out to do.
Be that as it may, viewed on its own merits, 5 Broken Cameras is a very biased and openly pro-Palestinian film. There is a slew of them out there (“Checkpoint”, “Occupation 101″, “Israel vs. Israel”, “Life in Occupied Palestine”, or “Tears of Gaza” - reviewed by this writer here.
All these movies have at least three characteristics in common: microscopic view of a much wider issue, intentional de-contextualization to isolate the viewer from the larger picture, and heavily manipulative emotional content to better rile viewers against Israel.
Let’s review each one.
1. Microscopic view of a much wider issue: 5 Broken Cameras focuses on the West Bank town of Bilin, where the local population, supported by a steady flow of international supporters, has been demonstrating for years on a weekly basis against the Israeli occupation. They do so allegedly in a “non-violent” manner, but I can’t see how throwing hundreds of rocks and bricks on Israeli jeeps can be deemed non-violent. Just the same, the process of focusing relentlessly (for 90 long minutes) on a small group of Palestinian villagers without providing any information that would explain the context in which to place their struggle leaves the uninformed person to conclude that Israel is persecuting innocent Palestinian civilians for no other reason than sheer cruelty. And that is of course the entire purpose of the film. A more objective film would have presented the macroscopic view of the conflict as opposed to only one of its tiny components.
2. Intentional de-contextualization to isolate the viewer from the larger picture: No one explains in the film why the security barrier came up in the first place (in the wake of the murderous second intifada in 2000 which killed 1,000 innocent Israeli civilians and left more than 3,000 maimed for life), or why Israel came to occupy the West Bank (because it was attacked by Jordan, Egypt and Syria in 1967 and ended up with this territory in the process of defending itself against Arab aggression), or why it is still there 25 years later (because the Arabs first, and the Palestinians later have systematically rejected all peace offers made by Israel to relinquish the West Bank in exchange for peace). Viewed from that perspective, the true intent of the film and its sheer hypocrisy are immediately evident. The de-contextualization of the film is not accidental, but premeditated.
3. Heavily manipulative emotional content: This is the pro-Palestinian films’ classical trademark: focus on a few figures and induce viewers to identify with them emotionally. The result is entirely predictable. By the time the film is over, people are inevitably so riled up against Israel and the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) that they are furious at the Jewish State for having the audacity to defend itself against relentless Palestinian attacks (as illustrated, in a strange counterpoint, by the approximately 150 rockets fired by Hamas into Israel in the previous week alone).
As a result, while this type of film is certainly worth watching (if only to analyze the fine art of crafting propaganda films), it is important to come prepared in order to sort out facts from fiction and to add context and perspective. Not everyone has enough knowledge about the myriads of facts surrounding the Middle East conflict to be able to judge instantly whether they are witnessing an honest depiction or are merely being duped.
Again, the La Jolla Country Day School took the right approach when presenting such a controversial film, and it is to be hoped that the model they offered, i.e. have a panel of speakers with different views to comment on the film after its screening, can be repeated next year as well as emulated in other schools. In this respect, it is worth noting that the LJCDS did not fall for the usual trap set in this this type of situation by pro-Palestinian activists, i.e. invite an obviously pro-Palestinian Palestinian or Arab together with a Jewish or Israeli activist deemed to “represent” the Israeli side but who in fact turns out to be more pro-Palestinian than some of the most anti-Israel Palestinians. The trick is commonly used on campuses by intellectually dishonest professors who thus dupe hundreds of people in the audience by convincing them that everyone, Arabs and Jews alike, are united in condemning Israel. That happened both at SDSU and UCSD in the last few years. Good thing the LJCDS didn’t allow that to happen in their school.
J.J. Surbeck is Executive Director of T.E.A.M. (Training and Education About the Middle East), a local non-profit organization dedicated to bringing balance to the debate about the Middle East conflict. He can be reached at email@example.com .
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