I had been in Seattle and the U.S. only a few days when I heard that Palestinian Iyad Burnat, brother of the filmmaker of the Oscar-nominated feature documentary, “5 Broken Cameras,” would be speaking about the “nonviolent” nature of Palestinian demonstrations. I knew I had to attend the event.
I had met Iyad five years earlier when I was a young Israeli soldier, an 18-year-old who had just started my service in the Israeli Defense Forces. The IDF knew there would be a demonstration against Israel’s security fence near Ramallah, a Palestinian city in the West Bank. The IDF wanted someone who spoke Arabic to mediate between the demonstrators and the IDF soldiers and minimize the chances of any physical altercations. Since I speak Arabic, I was chosen for this task.
As soon as I arrived at the Palestinian town, I encountered Iyad Burnat who was leading the demonstration. I tried to speak with him again and again, and ask him to stop what was becoming a violent riot. I told him there are other ways to protest and that talking with each other would work better than clashing with the IDF. In response, he shoved me to the ground and the crowd cheered. Soon after, the Palestinian demonstrators began hurling rocks and stones. One broke the jaw of a friend of mine, a fellow IDF soldier. He was forced to stay in the hospital for three weeks until he recovered.
Now, five years later, on January 13, 2013, I saw Iyad again at his presentation in Seattle. I was unfamiliar with the sponsoring groups, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights (SUPER), but thought that they might want the audience to hear what I had to say, even if they disagreed with me.
I sat quietly while Iyad talked. His presentation was full of lies, demonization of Israel and of Israel’s army, false accusations, and deception. Hard as it was to do, I listened politely to his hate speech. It was even harder to sit still through his pictures and video clips of soldiers being pushed and injured, accompanied by overly dramatic music common in action and horror films. It hurt me to hear the audience laugh every time an Israeli soldier fell down, and to see that the film had been edited to make it seem that the IDF abused the demonstrators. From personal experience, I knew that the provocations and violence that forced the IDF to act were omitted.
When Iyad opened the floor to questions, I waited patiently for others to speak. Only one person asked a question and, after some silence, I took my turn and stood up. I asked Iyad if he recognized me. As I had expected, he said he did not. I told Iyad and the audience about the first time we met and how he had shoved me and how his demonstrators had broken the jaw of a fellow soldier who was my friend. I told them about another similar “nonviolent” demonstration when Palestinians threw rocks and severely injured a young soldier who lost his eye. I asked Iyad, “How can you call these nonviolent protests?”
I then brought out my photo of one of Iyad’s demonstrations which showed five masked Palestinians with big rocks in their hands, preparing to hurl them at Israeli soldiers.
When I was in mid-sentence, a young man in the audience began screaming at me. He was probably in his early 20’s and wore a “Free Palestine” T-shirt. When I had spoken about the injured Israeli soldiers, he shouted, “Good. I’m glad. They deserved it.” Then he began yelling, “Get this f-ing Zionist out of here.” Another Israeli in the audience stood up and told him to let me speak. But the young man continued his vulgar tirade, demanding that “Zionists” be removed from the room. I attempted to calm him, reassuring him that I had come to start a dialogue and that there was no need for such hostility.
But the angry man started aggressively charging toward me. I simply turned and left the room. I was determined not to let him get into physical contact with me.
The other Israeli man later told me that unfortunately, the confrontation did not end after I left.
When I left, he also started to leave. A woman reached out to him and said in Hebrew, “Please don’t leave. I’m scared but I want to ask a question.”
The Israeli waited while she asked her question. As Iyad attempted to answer, the aggressive man moved toward the Israeli and while facing the woman who had asked the question, made threatening gestures, moving his hand across his neck as if slitting someone’s throat. Then he charged across the room toward the Israeli as though preparing to attack him. With no way to protect himself or the woman who asked the question or another sympathetic attendee, the Israeli swung the SLR camera he was holding to ward off the attacker. In the course of the confrontation, the Israeli man’s camera broke, resulting in what he called “the sixth broken camera.”
This event was my introduction to the battle against Israel and its supporters in the U.S. I was shocked and saddened by the hatred and lies of anti-Israel propagandists in the U.S. and by the aggressive effort to silence me, my perspective, and the facts. The Burnats and their film are indeed about “broken cameras” but their cameras were not “broken” by the IDF. Rather, the filmmakers distorted their camera lens. They manipulated reality to create a fractured vision that omits all context and is no more than raw anti-Israel propaganda.