Fighting without weapons: Palestinian documentary films and acts of resistance

Martijn Van Gils, Malaka M B Shwaikh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Film production has for a long time been a prominent medium for Palestinians to resist Israeli occupation and create a cultural memory. Though there are some academic studies on the subject, a critical framework of analysis for such films remains underdeveloped. This article argues that Palestinian film production has surged particularly in recent years as part of an increasingly globalised dimension to Palestinian resistance, alongside such initiatives as the Electronic Intifada and the BDS movement. Early Zionist rhetoric asserted the non-existence (or invisibility) of Palestinians. Several decades later, when the Arab revolt was shut down, the Israeli official propaganda largely shifted to a discourse of “emergency”, which decontextualizes the anti-colonial nature of Palestinian resistance. The films 5 Broken Cameras (2011) and Private (2004) both engage with Israeli colonialism and the state of emergency by acting as tools of witnessing, laying bare the occupational strategies the Israelis use under emergency law and revealing the arbitrary nature of such practices as the Separation Wall. The films challenge Israeli authority through their depictions of predominantly non-violent forms of resistance, which counters their historically constructed invisibility as a people, as well as the colonialist narrative of “terrorism”. Non-violent resistance makes the recognition of Israeli authority problematic, as the settlers cannot use brute force to drive out the Palestinians if there is no documented incident in context to justify violence. Furthermore, the article argues that the form of the films – pseudo-documentary and especially “talking witness” documentary – enables their emotive content to reach out to an international audience, which could potentially respond. Thus, the films not only contain acts of resistance, but they significantly are tools of resistance in the conflict.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)443-464
JournalAsian Affairs
Issue number3
Early online date24 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Israel
  • Palestine
  • Settler colonialism
  • State of emergency
  • Documentary
  • Film
  • 5 Broken Cameras
  • Private


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