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Five Broken Cameras Review: Olive Oil Trees Burial Ground 

posted on: Apr 17, 2024

Five Broken Cameras Trailer

By: María Teresa Fidalgo-Azize| Arab America Contributing Writer 

It’s not just a film; it’s something about life. There are many films about his subject, but most of them were made by people who came from outside. They really didn’t live the reality, they didn’t suffer; they didn’t feel the same feelings that people who live there feel. When I narrate, it comes from inside, from my feelings. It’s not just a talk or conversation. 

Emad Burnat, Seven Years, 5 Broken Cameras: Documenting the Occupation

Modern society has become desensitized to tragedy when its misery is consumed as a continuous political scandal instead of a humanitarian crisis commanding change. When live broadcasts and limitless phone updates of police brutality, chemical weapons used against civilians and currently in Gaza and the West Bank genocide[1] become habitual, it is no surprise when someone turns off their phones in an act of self-preserving indifference. Repetitive imagery of suffering numbs us when dysfunctionality becomes the norm. Media saturated with images of the human carnage in Gaza, it is testimonial documentaries such as 2013 Academy Award nominee 5 Broken Camera that are able to move viewers to empathy rather than static pity concerning the sensitive situation of settler colonialism

5 Broken Cameras, directed by Palestinian Emad Burnat and Israeli Guy Davidi, is assembled as a confessional anthology running a seven-year course —filmed by five different cameras— of Emad’s and his family’s life in the occupied territory of Bil’in. Originally with the purpose of recording the birth and toddler years of Emad’s youngest son, Gibreel, as family mementos, reality tilted leading Emad to use his camera as a witness to the non-violent protests of Israeli-West Bank barrier. The film distinguishes itself from countless real-life portrayals of violence against Palestinians as it neither categorically vilifies Israelis— the soldiers seen are mostly faceless pawns of protocol — or sentimentalizes tragedy as the sole identity of Palestinians. Absent of rehearsed feelings and media darling problem solved answers, Emad and Guy propose something different: unadulterated honesty spoken from raw footage experience. 

5 Broken Cameras: It is Always Time to Grow Up

Still Image of Five Broken Cameras Film

The only protection I can give him is allowing him to see everything with his own eyes, so he can confront just how vulnerable life is. 

Emad Burnat, Five Broken Cameras

Images of non-violent protests contested with militarized responses is nothing unusual when representing the Gaza conflict. Nevertheless, in Five Broken Cameras, the hesitancy and even rejection Emad faced from his family for recording events of misuse of powers capture audiences’ attention. Innocent people’s death becomes punishable once violence has been spotlighted. Throughout the film, Emad introduces us to some of his family and friends, villagers in Bil’in active as non-violent protestors against the occupation of their homeland. Flourishing with kindness and charisma, Phil, a local also nicknamed El-Phil is presented in scenes depicting his close role-model relationship with young teenage boys and in active instances of de-escalating violence with Israeli soldiers. News of his murder shock the spectator as they are introduced to him from the kinship familiarity of Emad. Aggravating the pain of witnessing an innocent man’s murder is how his death affects the community’s youths into developing a behavior committed to exacting retribution.  

Trauma hardens the child-like innocence of Gibreel. In the scene where he asks his father why they should not kill Israeli soldiers with knives, Gibreel transforms himself before our eyes from a harmless child to a possible agent of violence, despite the caressing sweetness of his voice. The direction of the film deters justified anger from evolving into a metastatic revenge. Emad inquires on Gibreel’s rationale revealing that it stems from the loss of the beloved Phil. Anecdotal trauma taints the journey of growing up and coming of age. The shattering of Gibreel’s innocence tells the audience through sensitivity and empathy how who by nature is kind can transform into the face of vengeance. The portrayal of potential radicalization is not rooted in ideological propaganda but in the politics of loss. 


Healing is a challenge in life. It’s a victim’s sole obligation. By healing, you resist oppression. But when I’m hurt over and over again, I forget the wounds thar rule my life. Forgotten wounds can’t be healed. So I film to heal. 

Emad Burnat, Five Broken Cameras

Unlike many historic conflict driven documentaries, Five Broken Cameras rarely offers its audience a detailed historical panorama of the Palestine-Israeli conflict. Hence, regardless of the politics of Bil’in, abuse rejects thorough politization for the recognition of the personal human connection.  Five Broken Cameras is more than a decade old, yet the amassed ancestry of systemic dehumanization against Palestinians continues to resonate when hearing Emad’s cry for healing. To speak about trauma implies an unconscious re-writing of the event. The painful process of remembering returns to the terrain of palpating wounds. Credibility can be questioned if judged through a strict factual and linear re-telling of trauma. Because Emad presents us his wounds through the healing mechanism of cinema, more than a documentary of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict depicting neo-colonialism, Five Broken Cameras is a collective call to recognize that it is through art and its visibility that Emad and so many others like him can regain the reflection of a dignified human face. 

Works Cited: 

Davidi, Guy and Emad Burnat , directors. 5 Broken Cameras . Kino Lorber , 2011,

“ND/NF Q&A w/ Emad Burnat & Guy Davidi, ‘5 Broken Cameras.’” YouTube, Film at Lincoln Center , 12 Apr. 2012,

Pappé , Ilan. The Ethnic Cleansing of PalestineOneworld Publications , 2007. 

Scott, A. O. “A Palestinian Whose Cameras Are Witnesses and Casualties of Conflict.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 29 May 2012,

[1] According to Ilan Pappé’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, the act of ethnic cleansing is defined as “mixed country homogenous by expelling a particular group of people and turning them into refugees while demolishing the homes they were driven out from… Massacres accompany the operations, but where they occur are not part of a genocidal plan: they are key tactics to accelerate the flight of the population earmarked for expulsion. Later on, the expelled are then erased from the country’s official and popular history and excised from its collective memory” (28). 

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