Palestinian Oscar nominee laments US airport snub

Published — Friday 22 February 2013

Last update 22 February 2013 2:00 am

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LOS ANGELES: Oscar-nominated Palestinian director Emad Burnat lamented that US border guards detained him and his family at the Los Angeles airport as they arrived for the awards show.
Burnat, whose “Five Broken Cameras” is up for best documentary at Sunday’s 85th Academy Awards, told AFP it was abnormal that he was held up at LAX for an hour — but said the Palestinian people endure similar problems every day.
“I am the first Palestinian that has a documentary nominated to the Oscars. And it’s important to be an Oscar nominee. So to hold at the airport an Oscar nominee and start to question him, it’s not normal,” he said. He added: “We go through this in our country because we live in a not normal situation under Israeli occupation,” and have to go through checkpoints and border crossings all the time.
“I felt the same thing when they stopped me in Los Angeles, because I am a Palestinian and I have a Palestinian passport so there is no big respect for me and my passport,” he said.
Burnat spoke at an Oscars-organized event for documentary nominees, including candidates, 24 hours after arriving in the United States from Turkey.
In a statement earlier, he said guards wanted proof that he was nominated for an Oscar, adding that “if I couldn’t prove the reason for my visit, my wife Soraya, my son Gibreel and I would be sent back to Turkey on the same day.”
“After 40 minutes of questions and answers, Gibreel asked me why we were still waiting in that small room. I simply told him the truth: ‘Maybe we’ll have to go back.’ I could see his heart sink.”
But he added: “Although this was an unpleasant experience, this is a daily occurrence for Palestinians, every single day, throughout the West Bank... Ours was a very minor example of what my people face every day.”
A US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency spokesman, when as asked for comment, said he could not discuss individual cases due to privacy laws.
But in a statement the agency said the “CBP strives to treat all travelers with respect and in a professional manner, while maintaining the focus of our mission to protect all citizens and visitors in the United States.”
“Travelers may be referred for further inspection for a variety of reasons to include identity verification, intent of travel, and confirmation of admissibility.”
Burnat spent five years filming his village’s resistance to Israeli settlers to make “Five Broken Cameras,” which won the foreign documentary directing prize at last year’s Sundance Film Festival.
The West Bank village of Bilin, some 10 km west of Ramallah, made headlines when its inhabitants demonstrated in 2005 against an Israeli settlement on their land.
That same year, Burnat, then an olive picker, received a small camera as a gift for the birth of his fourth child. He rapidly developed from making family home movies to filming the resistance of Bilin.
Burnat’s brief detention was first reported by activist filmmaker Michael Moore, who alerted Oscars organizers, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and tweeted about it. Speaking at Wednesday’s event, Moore — who won the best documentary Oscar in 2003 for “Bowling for Columbine” — shared how he was alerted to Burnat’s plight while waiting for him at a dinner Tuesday.
“We are at this dinner in Beverly Hills to honor everyone here, we are standing here, we are drinking, and we are waiting, because there is somebody missing, Emad doesn’t show up,” he said. “And all of a sudden, my BlackBerry goes off. It’s Emad... They have detained him and his wife and his son because he told them he was here because he was an Oscar nominee.”

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