Film Review: “No Other Land” — In The West Bank, Seizing Land and Smashing Cameras

By David D’Arcy 

Watch Five Broken Cameras as No Other Land finds its way to festivals beyond Berlin. By then, the forced displacement of people in the West Bank will look gentle compared to the relentless siege of Gaza.

A scene from the Palestinian-Israeli documentary No Other Land. Photo: Berlinale

As Israeli forces intensify their shock offensive in refugee-packed Rafaa, and as right-wing extremists and Trump in-law Jared Kushner eagerly foresee luxury tourism reviving the flattened Gaza waterfront, the vicious side-show of retribution continues on the occupied West Bank.

That’s the setting of No Other Land, a Palestinian-Israeli documentary. It was a rare Israeli film in the program of this year’s Berlin International Film Festival. (Usually a strong market for movies from or about Israel, Berlin proudly premiered Golda last year, celebrating Golda Meir, who blithely denied that the Palestinian people even existed.)

This story, of a Palestinian family and the repeated destruction of its rudimentary home, is an account of the intimidation and violence taking place on the West Bank. It is now overshadowed by the ongoing invasion of Gaza after the murderous Hamas attack of October 7. But the narrative offers detailed observations of just how occupation works. And it also serves up a dark, uneasy fable of oppression.

We meet the family in Mazafer Yatta, a modest collection of villages on barren hillsides near the city of Hebron. Four filmmakers — Basel Adra, Hamdan Ballal, Yuval Abraham, Rachel Szor — are documenting Adra’s family’s struggles with the Israeli army and police. We see Israeli settlers moving in and out of the frame; the ones we see are ransacking vigilantes whom the authorities tolerate and often encourage. Adra and Ballal are Palestinian, Abraham and Szor are Israeli. The film is a Palestinian and Norwegian co-production.

Adra’s father, the owner of the land, has been an activist in asserting his family’s property rights, reason enough for Israelis to target the family. They are informed that the land they live on sits in the way of a military training site and told that they will have to move. News of a court decision evicting them comes just as they are expanding their makeshift home. The Israeli response is to send in bulldozers to tear the structure apart, again and again. When the family switches to working on the building at night, Israeli soldiers still come by flatten anything new that has been erected. When the family installs pipes to bring water to the buildings, Israeli troops arrive with teargas and chainsaws and cut up the pipes.

Adra uses video cameras to record acts of construction and destruction. When the word of an Arab family is set against the word of soldiers, the outcome is clear; the visual record, hard to refute, offers valuable evidence of a Sisyphean struggle. The demolition crews appear, as if on cue, with massive bulldozers that approach awkwardly and consume structures like giant insects. This horror isn’t make-believe.

One effect of the home demolition by Israeli soldiers is to drive the family and the belongings they salvage into caves in the hillside. As the tourist brochures will tell you, a trip to the Holy Land can take you back more than 2000 years.

In fact, No Other Land looks a lot like a Biblical tale featuring continual plagues or scenes reminiscent of a community’s travails that are chronicled on the base (predella) of a Renaissance altarpiece. Often, in such Christian scenarios, a saint appears miraculously to save the community. Not here, although Israeli and foreign activists — even a smiling Tony Blair — come by to express their support.

The absurd futility of the conflict on this remote hillside is overwhelming, and oddly routine. In a landscape where barely anything grows or stands, every effort by the family to make their land livable is punished. The official reason: the land has been confiscated so Israeli troops can train there. Training to fight against whom? Against the families whose homes were levelled?

A scene from Five Broken Cameras. Photo: Kino Lorber

Like most fables, the documentary builds its story from familiar elements. In 2011, the film Five Broken Cameras by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi (another Palestinian/Israeli partnership), followed a Palestinian family in the West Bank as it tried to document the attempted seizure of its land over a five-year period. (These are the first five years of Burnat’s then-newborn son.) The reason given for this was the desire of a nearby Jewish settlement for more territory. The response from Israeli soldiers, for those five years, was not just to take the land away, but to take away or destroy the devices that documented the land grab. The filmmakers watch as century-old olive trees are burned to the ground by soldiers and settlers. Without the cameras, what evidence, besides their own eye-witness accounts, would the Palestinians have? Not that it mattered. When these disputes go to court, Palestinians rarely prevail. Never mind that the occupation of the West Bank is illegal, according to the United Nations, as are the settlements, and the encroachment on territory. It should also be noted that the Israeli crews traveling with IDF troops brought their own cameras to film Palestinians protesting and throwing rocks. No one breaks those cameras.

Could the IDF assemble their own documentary showing the land seizures from that footage – if only in the interest of “balance”? It would be a challenge to portray the events of the film differently.

The dutiful account in Five Broken Cameras of the everyday abuse of the Israeli occupation was shown on PBS, hardly a forum for jihadists. It can now be found on POV (free online) and on the Kino Lorber streaming platform. Watch it as No Other Land finds its way to festivals beyond Berlin. By then, the forced displacement of people in the West Bank will look gentle compared to the endless siege of Gaza.

David D’Arcy lives in New York. For years, he was a programmer for the Haifa International Film Festival in Israel. He writes about art for many publications, including the Art Newspaper. He produced and co-wrote the documentary Portrait of Wally (2012), about the fight over a Nazi-looted painting found at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.


  1. Steve on March 29, 2024 at 1:57 pm

    If the current repressive climate in the US and Western Europe is anything to go by, this film will not find distribution here. 10 years ago, it would have been snapped up from Berlin immediately.

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