J.J. Goldberg intriguingly writes that of the two documentary films from Israel and Palestine currently nominated for an Academy Award - The Gatekeepers and Five Broken Cameras - both are “painful to watch” but The Gatekeepers is “much harder.”
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That’s because, as he describes it, Five Broken Cameras “...never shows the Israeli side, doesn’t discuss the corrosive impact of Palestinian terrorism, never asks what Israel’s alternatives are. It’s all too easy to dismiss.”
When we write, we invariably have imagined audiences in mind. Who are we writing for? Who are we trying to educate, inform or persuade?
When I read Goldberg’s words - before watching the film, I sensed I was not part of his presumed audience, an audience that might include the admirers of Moshe Arens, who recently wrote in these pages, “As for negotiations with the Palestinians, that, as we know, depends first and foremost on them.”
Here’s what happens when a liberal Zionist watches Five Broken Cameras.
A few minutes into the film, the liberal Zionist is struck by the words she hears the narrator’s wife, hanging laundry to the sound of gunshots, say to her husband: “Emad, don’t let the kids out. Soldiers are in the village.” The camera cuts to the village. Palestinian men are banging tambourines and cheering, taunting the soldiers who are on patrol.
With those words, the liberal Zionist is immediately transported to her youth spent at Zionist summer camp. There, a certain song was sung frequently, with great enthusiasm, sometimes accompanied by joyful folk dancing to the imagined sound of tambourines.
Tzena, Tzena, as Ari Y. Kelman recounts in Tablet Magazine, became a mid-20th century anthem of North American Zionism as Diaspora Jews gazed with admiration at the rise of the Jewish State, seemingly worlds away.
This liberal Zionist would later spend time living in Israel. It was the first intifada, and she befriended the soldiers she had once sung about; soldiers who were now her peers. She would dance with them into the wee hours on Friday nights at the kibbutz disco while they were on weekend furloughs. She would talk with them but did not really talk with them about what they were actually doing during the six days sandwiched between weekend discos fueled by Goldstar beer.
That liberal Zionist would return to Israel a year later to live in Tel Aviv, riding the inter-city bus to her internship at the Knesset when news broke of a bus bombing a couple of miles from her apartment. That liberal Zionist recalls feeling the need for a barrier between the West Bank Palestinians who sought to murder Israelis - and whatever Diaspora Jews happened to be spending time forging the Hebrew and Israeli aspect of their communal identity.
Now, when she watches Five Broken Cameras, she sees the faces of the narrator’s young boys - children who are today the same age as her own - look in fear towards the village, as they hear soldiers patrolling, and then see them shooting, and killing, civilians.
She thinks back to her days singing and dancing to Tzena Tzena, that anthem of her Zionist youth, the song which spurred heady debates over cheap Shabbat wine on Friday nights at university, debates about gender representation in early Israeli folk music. And still the song would keep appearing in the soundtrack of that liberal Zionist’s life, sometimes ironically, and at other times, nostalgically. She would even hear it blasting from car speakers as she and her two kids skipped and marched in the Jewish community contingent of her city’s gay Pride Parade.
Watching the film, that liberal Zionist realizes that when it comes to thinking about those early soldiers who were fighting for the Zionist dream of Jewish independence, something has gone terribly wrong.
She sees that at some point a frightened Palestinian boy got bizarrely and tragically written into that narrative about Israeli soldiers in the village. The song was meant to be a musical celebration about trust in our nation’s own defense. It was never meant to be a tribute to scorching olive trees, stealing land, arresting children, and shooting Palestinian men at their own demonstrations.
She knows that when she hears the Palestinian villager say that he is going to live and die on this land, she knows it is possible. She knows that with some grit and courage, Israelis can retreat behind the invisible border of the country that is theirs, while leaving the Palestinians to seek the same sovereign dream that her people nurtured as she was singing and dancing under the northern lights of Canadian prairie summers.