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How “Evil Israeli Soldiers” Saved an Anti-Israel Filmmaker’s Life

“Five Broken Cameras” didn’t win the World Documentary competition at last week’s Sundance Film Festival, losing out to another anti-Israel film. But it has garnered plenty of international attention, including two awards at Amsterdam’s International Documentary Film Festival and a glowing write-up in the New York Times. The film, according to the Sundance synopsis, documents what happened after the West Bank village of Bil’in “famously chose nonviolent resistance” against Israel’s security fence: “an escalating struggle as olive trees are bulldozed, lives are lost, and a wall is built to segregate burgeoning Israeli settlements,” in which a child’s “loss of innocence and the destruction of each camera are potent metaphors.” In short, another tale of good Palestinians versus evil Israelis.

You have to persevere to the end of the Times piece to find another angle to Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat’s story:

“In late 2008, he accidently drove a truck into the separation barrier and was badly injured. A Palestinian ambulance arrived at the same time as Israeli soldiers, who saw what bad shape he was in and took him to an Israeli hospital.

“‘If I had been taken to a Palestinian hospital,’ Mr. Burnat said, “’I probably wouldn’t have survived.’ He was unconscious for 20 days. Three months later he was back filming.”

In short, Burnat is alive today to win prizes for a film about evil Israeli soldiers suppressing “nonviolent resistance” in Bil’in because those same evil Israeli soldiers saved his life four years earlier. And this is not an irrelevancy; it epitomizes the flaw in the “good Palestinians versus evil Israelis” trope: As anyone who makes any effort to discover the facts quickly learns, Israelis all too often refuse to play the part assigned to them.

And for that matter, so do Palestinians – with Bil’in being a classic example. For contrary to the prevailing wisdom encapsulated in that Sundance synopsis, Bil’in residents certainly weren’t practicing “nonviolent resistance.” Here, for instance, is Haaretz’s report on a major demonstration in Bil’in to mark five years of protests against the fence:

“The activists maintain that their demonstrations are peaceful. However, youths were preparing slingshots, and took up positions in front of an IDF checkpoint on the other side of the fence, throwing stones. IDF statistics claim that since the start of the demonstrations 110 members of the security forces suffered injuries, and one officer lost an eye as a result of projectiles fired with slingshots.”

Slingshots have been lethal weapons since biblical times (remember David and Goliath?). And it’s hardly unusual for soldiers attacked with lethal weapons to respond with deadly force. What’s unusual about Bil’in is that the Israelis generally didn’t: While Palestinians have been killed, most of the deaths were accidental. Burnat’s friend Phil, for instance, was killed when a tear gas canister – not usually a lethal weapon – happened to hit him in the chest.

Reasonable people of goodwill can certainly disagree about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But no reasonable person of goodwill can view it as a “good Palestinians versus evil Israelis” morality play. And anyone tempted to think otherwise should remember Emad Burnat.