Telling our stories before they are hijacked: Exclusive interview with Emad Burnat


burnat-jpg_203338Emad Burnat is co-director of the Palestinian documentary “5 Broken Cameras”, a film about his village, Bil’in and the community’s non-violent resistance of the Israeli occupation. The film was nominated for an Oscar this year. In February, Emad Burnat, his wife and son, Gibreel, who is featured in the film, attended the Oscars ceremony. As they were traveling to the Oscars, the family was detained and questioned by customs officials at Los Angeles International Airport. Two months later, Emad Burnat returned to the United States, without incident, to accept a Media Award by the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

The Islamic Monthly Editorial Director, Souheila Al-Jadda, spoke with Burnat about his film and the various responses he’s encountered.

The Islamic Monthly: Hopefully you didn’t have a hard time entering the United States this time?

Emad Burnat: No not this time. I came to the United States this year 8 times. But just one time when I came to the LA airport for the Oscars, they made problems for me and my family. This time the Jordanians made problems…They made investigations and they questioned me.

TIM: Why did that happen?

EB: I think what happened to me in the United States last time is a very small example of what has happened to me in Palestine or to my people in everyday life. But it is very strange for me to get the same treatment by the Jordanians.

TIM: Do you think that they don’t like that you are exposing Israeli practices?

EB: No they do this to Palestinians not just to me.

TIM: How has your film been received worldwide?

EB: The reaction and impact was very good. People are moved and touched by the story. Many people were shocked by the film. The film was released all over the world and shown all over the world and it is still going. It shows the reality and truth of our lives.

TIM: What about in Israel? How was the reaction to the film there?

EB: The film was shown in Israel many times, in the cinema, on TV, in different cities. I have been there once for the festival, that’s all. But I know there was good reaction from the people in Israel. But at the same time there were many bad reactions. Most of the reactions were bad against the film and against my village Bili’in and against the Palestinians.

TIM: I read that some soldiers shown in the film are suing you. Is that ongoing?

EB: Yes, the soldiers were talking about opening a case because I made this film. I told them, I told the TV station to make a live interview with me and the soldiers to talk about this, about why the soldiers are in the film. So I told them I live in my village and I did this film about my life and my village. And they came to my house and to my village. So if they have a problem they don’t need to come to my village.

TIM: You are obviously continuing to film and use your camera to document what is happening still. Does your wife support you in this?

EB: Of course, my wife supported me all the way. My camera is my weapon. I know the camera is a very strong witness. So what I have done with the camera, you see how it is going everywhere. The people outside are getting to know more about reality and about our lives. This is what’s important. My wife was supporting me all the way but at the same time she was worried about me because I was following the events everyday, 24 hours filming. I put my life in risky situations many times. I have been arrested. I have been under house arrest outside my village far from my family. So I was suffering and they were suffering. So, she wanted me to stop because she knows she wants me to be safe with the kids and the family.

TIM: Do you feel that the therapy of filming has worked for you? Have you completed your objective and what do you want to do more?

EB: My goal for this film was to reach the people and to show the film everywhere to the people who don’t know anything and have no idea about the situation or they are confused about the Palestinian-Israeli situation. But the film is still going on everywhere. I think my goal is to reach the people and make change. I need to make a good future for my kids and the next generation. For this reason, I made this film and I will continue filming.


TIM: Do you think any of your sons will carry your career path and torch of struggle?

EB: I think this is a very effective way to use the camera and the arts to make documentaries about our lives. Because we should tell our stories before anyone hijacks them. My son is filming also when I am traveling. I taught him filming and I hope he can keep filming and make films in the future.

TIM: Gibreel?

EB: Not Gibreel, my second son, Taqideen.

TIM: We have seen a lot of violence against you and your villagers. Do you think the non-violent movement is gaining ground in Palestine or do you think it’s a small sector that hasn’t able to accomplish its goals?

EB: I think if we speak of non-violence, it is not a new way in Palestine. We have been struggling this way for a long time. If you remember the first Intifada, it was a popular intifada and it was an unarmed Intifada, non-violent and peaceful. And we are still going on. There are many villages and towns doing the same thing. Because the media always focus on the violence and never focuses on the non-violence, so people don’t know anything about the non-violent resistance. My village became a symbol for the community for this way, the non-violent way. Not because it’s new in my village. It’s happened before in other towns and other villages, since the 80s–but because of the creative ideas of the non-violent resistance.

wewanttextTIM: What message do you have to supporters and activists in here, who are on your side? How can they help you?

EB: I will tell the people here that we want what they want, life and liberty. I want a good, safe future with peace, justice and freedom for my sons and the next generation. So we need their support to put pressure on the government in the United States and everywhere. We need their support so as not to support Israel government with weapons and not to support them to kill our kids and kill our people. There’s many ways to help and give support. We need you to support us and help us get our freedom.

TIM: Is your next target to bring down the wall?

EB: Not just bringing down the wall. The problem is not the wall. The wall is a small problem. The problem is the occupation.

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    Souheila Al-Jadda

    Souheila al-Jadda is the Editorial Director at The Islamic Monthly

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