"I have no memory of a time without struggle"

Co-director Emad Burnat with his five broken cameras

Story highlights

  • Filmmaker Emad Burnat has lived in the West Bank under military occupation all his life
  • He started filming the early years of his son's life alongside the resistance of his village
  • Now, his documentary "5 Broken Cameras" is up for best documentary at the Oscars

I come from Palestine. I have lived my entire life under military occupation, and I have no memory of a time without struggle.

I have seen my neighbors beaten, blindfolded, and kidnapped. I have seen children snatched from their mothers in the dead of night. I have seen my brother shot and friend murdered.

I can't tell you how this holy land felt before the armored jeeps' rumble. I can't trace a path from here -- from where the Wall surrounds me -- to the sea.

But for as long as I can remember, I could not forget. Forget the checkpoints, the harassment, the detentions. Forget that I am not free.

Like all prisoners, my memories are what sustain me. But what I need now are new memories. Happy memories.

That's why I started filming.

I wanted to make memories of my son, Gibreel. I wanted to capture his smile, to chronicle his life in close-up. I wanted to crop out the occupation, the violence, the hopelessness.

You know the scenes. Maybe you, too, have captured your loved ones' firsts: the first words, the first steps, the first glimpse of that way he angles his head and grins. Just like his mother.

Soraya's gentle voice is in so many scenes of our son's early life. But as I continued filming, Gibreel taught me that there are other sounds more urgent in his world.

Read more: How a boy's death brought a West Bank cinema back to life

His first words were "army" and "wall." His first steps were in the shadow of groaning bulldozers and screeching cranes. Not the kind children play with. The kind that build the colonies that are stealing our land.

Our land is Bil'in -- "a little village on a hillside." That's how the British described it a century ago, when we had already been there for many more. We are fewer than two thousand people, and we tend the land. We have no factories or office towers. There are no commuter trains or carpool lanes. For centuries, our walk to work has led through biblical fields of olive trees.

Emad's son Gibreel looks over at the Israeli settlements

Read more: Palestinian filmmakers beat the odds to hit silver screen

Then the colonists came. They are -- we hear -- English, French, Swiss, American. Some say there are 50,000 or more. They use our precious water to wash their cars and fill their swimming pools. They seem to thirst for pavement, cold steel, and concrete. And when they weren't satisfied with what they had already stolen, they came looking for more. They came looking in Bil'in.

That's when our families stood up and said, "No." We did so peacefully, but persistently, through nonviolent protest against the Wall cutting through our land. Throughout, our only power was our conviction. And that conviction drew others -- English, French, Swiss, American.

And Israelis. One of them is my friend Guy Davidi, who helped me make a film.

Five cameras and as many years later, I invited the world to see scenes from my son's first years-because the story of Gibreel's early life is also the story of Bil'in's resistance. The world calls it a documentary. I call it our story, a Palestinian story.

In it, a farmer becomes a filmmaker, and a village stands taller than a Wall.

Soon, this Palestinian story will contend for an award. It is a very big award, and many people will be watching. If it wins, what would I say? How does a Palestinian, from a little village on a hillside, address the world?

I close my eyes and imagine the scene.

There are a billion people, but I see just one. It is you, Gibreel. You are a man, perhaps my age now, looking back at the 35 years that brought you there. What will you see? What will your world look like? And if you had a camera, too, what memories would you make?

As the world listens, Gibreel, I want to say to you: I am from Palestine. I have lived my whole life under military occupation, and I have no memory of a time without struggle. But you, son, you will know better times. Someday, you will make new, happy memories.

And that will be the true award.

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