Emad Burnat, who is nominated for an Oscar for his documentary about confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians near his West Bank village, says he and his family were detained for "about an hour" after arriving at Los Angeles International Airport and threatened with deportation, while left-wing activist and documentarian Michael Moore has voiced his outrage.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, denied involvement in the reported incident, while the U.S. Customs and Border Protection declined to comment, citing privacy laws.
"Last night, on my way from Turkey to Los Angeles, CA, my family and I were held at U.S. immigration for about an hour and questioned about the purpose of my visit to the United States," Burnat said on Wednesday, February 20, in a statement obtained by OTRC.com.
"Immigration officials asked for proof that I was nominated for an Academy Award for the documentary '5 Broken Cameras' and they told me 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," he said.
Moore wrote on his website that Burnat had texted him to tell him that his wife and eight-year-old son, who also appears in "5 Broken Cameras," were held by Immigrations and Customs in a detention room at the airport.
"They are saying they are going to put us on the next plane back to Amman,' he told me," Moore wrote, quoting Burnat.
Amman, the capital of Jordan, shares a border with the West Bank. Burnat and his family had driven from the West Bank village of Bil'in, where "5 Broken Cameras" takes place, and gone through an Israeli checkpoint to cross into Jordan. They then flew from Amman to Turkey and then to Los Angeles, his spokesperson told OTRC.com.
"I told Emad to give the Homeland Security people my name and cell number and to have them call me ASAP so I could explain who he was and why they should let him go," Moore said on his website.
He said on his on his Twitter page that authorities "decided to release" Burnat and his family "after 1.5 hrs (sic)." He said they told him "he could say in LA for the week & go to the Oscars."
Burnat's spokesperson told OTRC.com that this marked the filmmaker's sixth trip to the United States this year and that he has "never had an issue before."
Homeland Security officials respond
"I have confirmed with my operational colleagues that, contrary to Michael Moore's messages, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had no involvement in this matter," a spokesperson for the group said in a statement obtained by OTRC.com.
A rep for the Customs and Border Protection department, also part of the Department of Homeland Security, said that "due to privacy laws, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is prohibited from discussing specific cases."
ABC News quoted a U.S. Customs and Border Protection source as saying that Burnat was detained for no more than 25 minutes and that he was never threatened in any way. He added that the filmmaker responded to a "natural" line of questioning that is customary practice, the news outlet reported.
"5 Broken Cameras" "made to inspire"
Burnat shot footage for "5 Broken Cameras" along with Israeli filmmaker and activist Guy Davidi. The documentary depicts what the filmmakers describe as a "deeply personal, first-hand account of non-violent resistance in Bil'in," his home village in the West Bank.
It is located about six miles from the Israeli border and near a controversial barrier that Israel says is meant to keep out terrorists but which Palestinians say was built on and annexes land that belongs to them.
For more than seven years, Palestinians and supporters from Israel and other parts of the world have held protests in the area, with some getting into rock-throwing and other violent confrontations with Jewish settlers and Israeli soldiers, who fire tear gas and rubber-coated metal bullets and also carry out arrests. Such demonstrations have often resulted in injuries.
According to the official website of "5 Broken Cameras," Israeli authorities arrested Burnat in 2006 for allegedly throwing rocks. It states that he "spent weeks in jail and under house arrest -- after which, his cameras were broken."
"It was the peace activists and donors that helped to get Emad new cameras, so that he could continue to film and document what was happening," it said.
"5 Broken Cameras was made to inspire, and not just to be interpreted as part of the political discourse ? although it is, of course, an important part of it," Burnat and Davidi said in a statement. "We made the film with sincere initiative, trying to challenge our own assumptions and avoid cliché. In the end, we hope everyone will come away with open hearts."
(Pictured above: Documentary film co-directors Palestinian Emad Burnat, left, and Israeli Guy Davidi pose for a photo in Los Angeles on Feb. 5, 2013. / Michael Moore arrives before the 84th Oscars in Los Angeles on Feb. 26, 2012. / Credits: AP photos / Damian Dovarganes / Joel Ryan)