5 Broken Cameras

An infographic summarising the amazing film 5 Broken Cameras, mentioned in a previous post. The film itself provides a graphic summary of life in the shadow of the settlements and the wall.  From Visualising Palestine, which features many infographics (some information rich, some less so).

Without trying to detract from the quality of the film or its statement, there is a blatant and intended inaccuracy in this narrative. As someone who was present in these protests and the ensuing skirmishes, I want to clarify it.

To my knowledge, the protests are indeed peaceful and non-violent. However,the Israeli Defence Forces' actions were not targeting the protestors, at least during the time I served in the region.

Every week there was a peaceful protest, starting in the village centre and progressing towards the fence. The protestors would shout "no to the fence" and "stop the occupation", but no physical action would be taken. Then the protestors would finish and head back to the village centre/go home, and the violence would start: young men, usually kids in their late teens and early twenties would swarm through the olive groves to attack the soldiers and try to destroy fence, carrying large rocks. Several of my friends were injured in such incidents, one of which carries a permanent injury. The orders we were given were to use non-lethal weapons such as tear gas and rubber bullets, with very strict instructions limiting their use substantially. Large portions of the force were in fact the Police's Border Watch, and they were in charge of making any arrests or direct dealing with the civilians.

Therefure, the protest itself was indeed non-violent, but it was always coupled with a planned violent event. It's certainly possible to participate in one such protest without being aware of its violent twin, but these protests were a weekly event. I cannot see how any regular participant can call the whole event peaceful without a large dose of cynicism.

My point is that, like any other aspect of this conflict, there is usually a wider context that gets ignored selectively by both sides.
Thank you for your thoughtful comment Ohad.

I am struck by disproportionality. You mention soldier were injured, where in contrast the film shows the death of Emad's companion El-Phil, and the infographic reports 18 Palestinians killed during protests at the Wall.
Similar disproportionality can be seen in the figures for Operation Pillar of Cloud:
Palestinian civilian losses:
105 killed (including 30 children) (Palestinian claim)
57 killed (Israeli claim)
103 killed (UN preliminary estimate)
Israeli civilian losses:
4 killed
(Figures from Wikipedia.)

I am curious at to your thoughts on the death of El-Phil in the film?
Let me add that, as I recall, stone throwing by protestors was shown in the film, though it did not convey that there was a regular pairing of non-violent and violent protests. It suggests that protestors not involved in violence were affected by the tear gas, and some were killed, and despite Ohad's description I suspect that is likely to be the case.

Ohad's last comment is put in an admirably balanced way. I don't have enough personal knowledge to assess to what extent, if any, it is valid for this particular film. Ohad, have you seen the film, or only descriptions of the film?
I'll answer in LIFO order:

I have not watched the film, and I was not referring to the film in my comment, only to the summary image in this blog post. I now realise my introductory paragraph is ambiguous, and I apologise if I mislead anyone to think I have an informed view of the narrative in the film.

I also emphasise that my experience is personal: I have no official data regarding whether the Bil'in demonstrations were always paired with a non-violent protest and a violent skirmish. My experience is limited to me serving 6 months in that sector around the summer of 2005, if I am not mistaken, in which a weekly skirmish as I described was the norm.

As I have not watched the film, nor have accurate data, I cannot accurately reply to your suspicion that people involved in the non-violent protest were injured. This does sound very probable, especially if you take into account the fact that sector commanders change in the region, and some soldiers may misinterpret the strict regulations.

However, this suspicion should really be taken in a wider context: while on paper you can separate the non-violent demonstration from the violent one, the two are very hard to separate in practice, especially if you take into account the short distances involved. If someone is injured in one of the two, how do you decide whether they were part of the peaceful part or the non-violent part? And if you know the peaceful demonstration is paired with a violent one, can you really call the peaceful demonstration peaceful?

Another problem that arises with a lack of context is a frequency misconception. It's very important to focus on a single life (and death), as it highlights the importance of even a one individual and its effect on the surrounding society. However, we must remember that such focus affects the conception. The summary in this post focusses on El-Phil's death, but says very little whether this was an anomaly (unfortunate, undesirable, unneeded), or the norm. The next rubric in the strip talks about 18 deaths over /all/ protests against the wall, over a period of 7 years, and I assume it refers to both the West Bank and Gaza. We have very little information as to whether that unfortunate death was due to a human error (a soldier disobeying an order and directing a gas canister at El-Phil) or a policy, and whether that error was punished and rectified later.

Again, I'm trying not to justify either side here, I leave that to the reader's interpretation. But in many discussions I had about the conflict, a large portion of the dispute arises from such lack of context, where both sides extrapolate from insufficient data about what is the 'norm'.

Finally, the Pillar of Cloud figures are saddening, unfortunate, but constitute a red herring here if they were made as some form of reply to my comment. The Bil'in protests have very little to do with said operation, which came as a response to Hamas and related Gazan organisations firing rockets at Israelis, and include very problematic settings such as storing ammunition and explosives in domestic neighbourhood and apartment buildings. If we want to discuss proportionality of the Bil'in protests, we need to separate the wheat from the chaff and work out more exact data about deaths and injuries in the past eight years, their causes, how they were dealt with on both sides, etc.. Personally, I don't see much point in doing so, as the real problem here is really not the way Israel dealt with the protests, but the fact that the wall was built and that the people of Bil'in lose many of their freedoms and suffer a daily interruption to their life. However, if you know of anyone compiling such a widely acceptable account of the facts, I will be happy to participate in such a discussion on proportionality.
Thanks, Ohad.

Regarding 'proportionality': apologies if I muddied the water. I mentioned Pillar of Cloud because I see Bil'in and it as both illustrating a pattern of asymmetry, where violent acts by individual Palestinians are met by mass violence undertaken by the Israeli government.

I appreciate your constructive contribution, and am happy to let the matter rest for now.
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