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Oscar-Nominated Palestinian Director Emad Burnat Detained by US Immigration

Oscar-nominated Palestinian director Emad Burnat had trouble getting into the United States. (Photo: Facebook)

Oscar-nominated Palestinian director Emad Burnat had trouble getting into the United States. (Photo: Facebook)

A Palestinian filmmaker nominated for an Oscar for his documentary about Israeli occupation was detained and threatened with deportation upon landing at Los Angeles International Airport on Tuesday night.

Emad Burnat, an olive farmer whose film “5 Broken Cameras” (co-directed with Guy Davidi, an Israeli) is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, was detained with his family by immigration officials at LAX. According to acclaimed documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, Burnat texted him for help while being detained and interrogated about the purpose of his visit.

“Apparently the Immigration and Customs officers couldn’t understand how a Palestinian could be an Oscar nominee,” Moore tweeted.

Burnat, his wife Soraya and his 8-year-old son Gibreel were reportedly told that they did not have the proper invitation to attend the Academy Awards, even though the director showed officials his Academy invite. But that “wasn’t good enough,” Moore wrote, adding that immigration officials threatened to deport the family.

Moore then called Academy officials, who in turn contacted attorneys. Meanwhile, Moore told Burnat to do some Hollywood name-dropping.

“After 40 minutes of questions and answers, Gibreel asked me why we were still waiting in that small room,” Burnat said in a statement. “I simply told him the truth: ‘Maybe we’ll have to go back.’ I could see his heart sink.”

“Doesn’t immigration have Google?” a flustered Burnat reportedly asked at one point during the ordeal.

“He was certain they were going to deport him,” Moore is quoted by HitFix. “But not if I had anything to do about it.”

“After one and a half hours, they decided to release him and told him he could stay in L.A. for the week and go to the Oscars,” Moore said. “Welcome to America.”

“Although this was an unpleasant experience, this is a daily occurrence for Palestinians, every single day, throughout the West Bank,” Burnat said in a statement. “There are more than 500 Israeli checkpoints, roadblocks and other barriers to movement across our land, and not a single one of us has been spared the experience that my family and I experienced yesterday. Ours was a very minor example of what my people face every day.”

Indeed, the Burnat family nearly missed their flight to America after spending six hours at an Israeli checkpoint while attempting to drive to the airport in Amman, Jordan.

The Burnat family was scheduled to attend a Beverly Hills dinner co-hosted by Moore for the Oscar-nominated documentary filmmakers. The dinner was postponed until the Burnats arrived. When they did show up, Moore described Emad as “fairly shaken and upset.”

Burnat delivered an emotional impromptu speech, telling the dinner guests that such ordeals happened “on a daily basis under [Israeli] occupation.”

“The Americans in the dining room apologized to Emad for the way our government and its security police treated him,” Moore wrote. “We then sat down and ate some good ol’ American roast beef.”

“5 Broken Cameras” focuses on Bil’in, Burnat’s village in the occupied West Bank, and the peaceful protests against the occupation, illegal Jewish settler colonization (often called a form of ethnic cleansing) and Israel’s illegal security barrier– often referred to as the ‘apartheid wall’— that separates the village from most of its farmland, crippling its economy and impoverishing its people.

Despite the film’s controversial viewpoint, Israeli officials have claimed the film as their own, touting it as one of two Israeli “Best Documentary” nominees for 2013. The other, “The Gatekeepers,” features interviews with six former heads of Israel’s Shin Bet security service. Dror Moreh, the film’s Israeli director, recently raised eyebrows when he told the Huffington Post that American Jews cherish the idea of Israel too much “by accepting everything Israel does,” and that Israel was “going towards an apartheid country.”

The directors of “5 Broken Cameras” take exception to Israel claiming the film as its own. Co-director Davidi, who is Israeli, told Electronic Intifada last month that “it’s first and foremost also a Palestinian film.”

The 85th Academy Awards will air on Sunday, February 24 at 7:00 pm Eastern time (4:00 pm Pacific) on ABC.

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