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Emad Burnat

Emad Burnat is co-director of the Oscar-nominated '5 Broken Cameras'

February 22nd, 2013 7:34 PM

My Journey From Palestine to Hollywood

My wife and I had seen that look before -- on the faces of our kids, mostly. After all, like all Palestinian children living in the West Bank, ours have grown accustomed to the humiliation of ID checks and interrogations.

But we had never seen our youngest son, Gibreel, as disappointed as he was on Tuesday, when American immigration officials threatened to deny us entry to the United States and to the 85th Academy Awards for which we had traveled two days to attend.

As my friend and fellow filmmaker Michael Moore, who intervened to help secure my entry, tweeted after the episode: "Apparently the Immigration & Customs officers couldn't understand how a Palestinian could be an Oscar nominee."

Well, I am an Oscar nominee. But more to the point, my film, 5 Broken Cameras -- which chronicles my village Bil'in's nonviolent struggle to resist Israeli occupation -- is about precisely the kind of humiliation my family and I experienced at Los Angeles International Airport. The only difference is that the victims where I come from number in the millions, and our stories have become so routine that what happened to my family and me yesterday pales by comparison.

That's because, on any given day, there are more than 500 Israeli checkpoints, roadblocks, and other obstacles to movement throughout the West Bank -- an area less than 2 percent the size of California on which some 2.5 million Palestinians live under a ubiquitous system of repression.

In my film, which I co-directed with Israeli Guy Davidi, you can see this repression up close.

You can see construction of what leaders of conscience (like Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu) have called an "apartheid" wall -- separating us from our land and providing cover for Jewish-only colonies to steal our resources. You can see my village's children shoved around by grown men in fatigues and armor. You can see unarmed civilians, including Israeli peace activists, being shot by occupation soldiers. And you can see that our response -- the Palestinian response -- has been dignified, nonviolent, and determined.

Above all, though, you can see just how ordinary these scenes have become for Palestinians. That ordinariness is why so many of us from Bil'in have been shocked by the film's success. People I never imagined I would ever meet -- actors, politicians, legendary musicians -- have told me how moved they were by it and, inevitably, how they "had no idea things were that bad" for Palestinians.

The truth is, they're far worse. Don't take it from me. Listen to Americans like former President Jimmy Carter or author of The Color Purple Alice Walker, who have spoken out about the injustices they have seen firsthand in Palestine.

Like them, the Americans who have seen my film and witnessed the effects of Israel's occupation have been moved to stand with us. Not against Israel, but on the side of Israelis and Palestinians who understand that the true meaning of peace, as the great American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. once wrote, is not the absence of tension, but the presence of justice.

As I was being questioned at LAX, members of the Academy were gathering for an event organized in honor of this year's nominees for best documentary. I had been invited, and when word got around that I had been detained, the group insisted on foregoing dinner until I arrived. Their solidarity reminded me of another King quote -- that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Acting on that principle, my dinner companions that night held fast for a farmer and his family from a little village in Palestine. Such acts of decency and moral courage, more than the pronouncements of politicians or pundits -- or the fear-driven acts of immigration officials -- are what will bring true peace to the Holy Land.

Emad Burnat, who co-directed the feature-length documentary 5 Broken Cameras, is in Hollywood this week to attend the 85th Academy Awards. Emad appeared on HuffPost Live this week to discuss his detention by Homeland Security at LAX:

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