What goes through the mind of a soldier? To stand, gun at the ready, against mostly harmless and innocent people and still find something to fear about them. To stand, helmet and body armour on, amidst a crowd of your own companions and still find oneself terrified of others enough to listen to the commands of a superior. To be a soldier one requires many thing; physical strength, stamina, discipline, but perhaps most of all, to be a soldier requires a decision that to my mind is completely unfathomable and horrific: it requires subsuming one’s moral code and authority over oneself to a commanding power. It requires the subjugation of one’s personal feelings and ideas to the control of a more powerful force, a force that may occasionally be in line with one’s own morals but can just as easily revert to something else. We as humans beings have had to fight for a great many things over our history, and a great many men and women have died fighting for all causes, both just and unjust. Yet ultimately, when you put on a uniform, what happens to your moral right to stand up for oneself? It has gone, the uniform has superseded it. A man in a uniform does not need to fight, for he has given up his moral authority already.
Perhaps it’s strange I should open my thoughts on 5 Broken Cameras on my thoughts about the military, but frequently my mind drifted to such thoughts during the film. This is a documentary about Bil’in, a village in the West Bank, and its gradual illegal settling by Israelis. It’s also a documentary about a young boy, director Emad Burnat’s youngest son, and his growing up in a time of turmoil and strife. It is most simply a film about 5 broken cameras that get shot or destroyed by the invading Israeli forces over the years: it is the footage from these cameras that allows the film to exist. It is not about the soldiers that invade, nor the injustices of Israeli apartheid. It is simply one man’s personal account of the injustice he himself has faced.
Emad Burnat, our guide through the story, narrates the film in a dejected voiceover that speaks of years of hardship and oppression taking their toll on him, though he is never less than entirely honest towards us. We see how his youngest son, Gibreel, begins to comprehend the unfairness of the world around him as he starts to ask questions, questions that nobody can answer, and nobody should have to answer. Burnat’s wife pleads with him to stop filming, but he can’t; it is an obsession for Emad to record, to document, the obsession of a filmmaker. It is also something of a shield, yet a fragile one. More than once his life is saved by the camera deflecting or stopping a bullet. It is as if the Israeli army are terrified of being recorded, lest they are found to be doing something they shouldn’t be. It is the mark of any authoritarian, totalitarian, or fascistic state to limit control of information. Information and knowledge is freedom. Less information, less of a chance of being held to account. Burnat’s story is simply one amongst many, but it is knowledge nevertheless.
Again my mind returns to the soldiers. They are faceless in 5 Broken Cameras; paranoid, aggressive monsters. Some of them probably have wives, girlfriends or children, most of them have family for sure. They are, to an extent forced to this work due to Israel still retaining national service. Yet they still find it within themselves to put a uniform on and handle a gun; society trained them to do that, the state trained them to do that, and they in turn let that happen, so it becomes an accepted part of life.
Our real weapons are our eyes and our mouths. With our eyes we can see, and we can gain information. With our mouths we can relay the information further. Silence these and you commit crimes against humanity, which is exactly what Israel have been doing for numerous years, in towns and settlements across Palestine. 5 Broken Cameras stands as testament to the real human tragedy, at the basest level, of the conflict. I can’t pretend I’m an expert on the political and historical context of the conflict, but a tragedies don’t need context. They are simply that, tragedies.