Israel-Palestine: The importance of first-hand accounts

Documentary films by local people in Palestine and Israel give us the stories, images, and perspectives left out of the mainstream media

Since 1947, the year the United Nations partitioned Israel and Palestine to separate Jews and Arab Palestinians following World War II, many western countries have supported Israel and have been hesitant to criticize the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian land and constantly encroaching Israeli settlements (see ‘primers’ on the Israel/Palestine conflict here and here).

Politically, Canada is one of Israel’s strongest supporters and an opponent of Palestine’s pursuit of statehood and war crimes charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court. The United States also backs Israel, financially and politically, making much of North American media biased against Palestine by downplaying civilian suffering and the violence unleashed by the Israeli army. This bias is perhaps best captured by ABC News’ Diane Sawyer’s misrepresentation of the conflict when she described a video as an Israeli family struggling to rebuild their home after violent attacks by Palestine, when the video actually showed a Palestinian family in Gaza scavenging after an Israeli attack.

I’m not an expert on the Israel-Palestine conflict, but I am convinced by a slew of journalists and commentators that Western media are, sometimes more craftily than others (ah-hem, Diane Sawyer), distorting the stories that are coming out of the region. For examples, see analyses by David Mastracci, Jim Naureckas from Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, Democracy Now!, and Jim Naureckas’ other piece on bias-by-omission. These types of analyses have convinced me of the West’s pro-Israel media bias in part because first-hand accounts of the conflict, in the form of documentary film, have validated the claim.

This is why documentary films made by people directly impacted by foreign conflict are so important.

On Saturday, Jan. 24, at Gower Street United Church in St. John’s, about 80 people watched and listened as Emad Burnat showed us what life has been like in his Palestinian village of Bil’in in the film 5 Broken Cameras.

Together, we witnessed a complex conflict from the point of view of a real local person. We saw Israeli soldiers disperse small groups of peaceful protesters using tear gas and bullets. We saw Palestinians throw rocks at Israeli army vehicles in retaliation. But we also saw moments of compassion; a Palestinian boy offers an Israeli soldier a literal olive branch, which is accepted, and Israelis take an injured Emad Burnat to a hospital in Israel where he receives superior treatment (for a price, of course).

The scenes in 5 Broken Cameras depict Israeli settlements illegally creep closer and closer to Palestinian villages. Olive trees, the livelihood of many Palestinian villagers, are set on fire by Israelis frustrated by Palestinian resistance to the separation wall. These images are powerful because they came from the camera lens of someone actually living these experiences.

In August 2014 Cinema Politica also partnered with the Gower Street United Church to screen Budrus, another documentary film created by actual participants of the Israel-Palestine peace movements. Budrus showed how Israelis and Palestinians are protesting together to end violence in the region and oppose the separation wall. Documentary films like Budrus and 5 Broken Cameras offer what the media often can’t or won’t: the story of conflict according to those directly experiencing it.

These films can help us better analyze media by either legitimizing what we hear (the way that 5 Broken Cameras validates claims of a pro-Israel stance in Western media) or highlighting the greyness of a situation that is often presented as black-and-white (the way Budrus showed Israelis and Palestinians protesting with each other, not against).

For those interested in learning more about the conflict in Israel and Palestine from a first-hand perspective, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize nominee Jeff Halper, from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), will speak in St. John’s on Wednesday, Feb. 4 in the S.J. Carew building at MUN, room EN2006. For more information on this event, click here.

Editor’s note: If you would like to respond to this or any article on, or if you would like to address an issue we haven’t yet covered, we welcome letters to the editor and consider each of them for publication in our Letters section. You can email yours to: justin at theindependent dot ca. Not all letters will be printed, but all will be read.

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