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Broken: A Palestinian Journey Through International Law (documentary film)

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Broken: A Palestinian Journey Through International Law
Directed byMohammed Alatar
Produced byStefan Ziegler
AdvocacyProductions Sàrl (Independent film and media production)
Release date
Running time
CountrySwitzerland (filmed in Palestine, Jordan, Netherlands, US, France, Switzerland)
LanguageEnglish (Arabic, French, Spanish, Italian, German – subtitles)

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Broken: A Palestinian Journey Through International Law is a documentary film produced in 2018 in Switzerland about the landmark 2004 International Court of Justice (ICJ) Advisory Opinion on the legality of the construction of Israel's West Bank Wall in Palestine.[1] It features interviews with judges, as well as diplomats, legal experts, UN officials, and Israeli and Palestinian representatives. The film focuses on how, despite widespread support at the UN General Assembly, the ICJ's opinion that the wall was illegal was never followed up with action by the international community. [2]

The film is directed by Mohammed Alatar, whose previous works include Iron Wall, a documentary on the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.[3] Alatar noted that almost all of the people featured in the film were initially very reluctant to talk on camera – "especially the judges. It's not customary for the judges to talk about their cases, especially in a case like the wall, which is loaded with political implications."[4]


See also: Israeli West Bank Barrier, Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory

In June 2002, Israeli authorities approved a plan to construct a continuous "security fence," separating most of the occupied West Bank from Israel. The stated purpose of the construction was protection from terrorism from the Palestinian side, following an uprising known as the Second Intifada. The route of the wall deviates significantly from The Green Line (The 1949 Armistice Line between Israel and the West Bank), as close to 90% of the wall is on Palestinian land, encircling Palestinian lands and communities. Palestinian communities and families have been cut off from each other as a result, and Palestinians face difficulties accessing their places of work, education and health care facilities.[5]


The film follows the recorded proceedings of the ICJ. The Israeli side refused to attend the court proceedings, arguing that they did not recognize the ICJ's jurisdiction in the matter. The Palestinian side, on the contrary, was consistently represented.[2]

As the proceedings closed, then-president of the ICJ Shi Jiuyong stated that "the Court finds that the construction by Israel of a wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and its associated régime are contrary to international law."[6] The court's decision was restricted to an advisory opinion only, but endorsed by the UN General Assembly by a vote of 150 against six.[7] Nevertheless, it was never implemented: Israel has not made reparations, and has since carried on with construction.[1]

The second half of the film focuses on interviews with the people involved, among them judge Thomas Buergenthal, a Jewish-American Holocaust survivor, who registered the only dissenting opinion of the Advisory Opinion. He concluded the ICJ had no jurisdiction over the matter, and that it was a mistake of the General Assembly to refer the case to the court in the first place.[2]


The film has generated discussion over the implementation and effectiveness of international law. Former UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order Professor Alfred-Maurice de Zayas said the film raises "wider questions about the credibility of the [international law] system," and offers "an honest discussion" on what the Advisory Opinion entailed and why it has not been implemented. [8] International law expert Professor Marcelo Gustavo Kohen said during an International Committee of the Red Cross Alumni Association debate that he strongly disagreed with Judge Buergenthal's comment in the film on how only cases with a chance of "success" should be brought to the ICJ. Kohen argued that the Advisory Opinion still had an impact, as it presented a near-universal acknowledgment that the Geneva Conventions apply.[9]

Avi Shlaim, emeritus professor of International Relations at the University of Oxford, called the film a "first-rate documentary that sheds a great deal of light on the intersection between law and politics in one of the world's most persistent trouble spots."[2] Rachel Leah of Salon commended director Alatar's ability "to balance the jargon-heavy international legal details and proceedings with an unwavering focus on the wall's effects on human life…"[4]


Best documentary feature film, Maracay International Film & Video Festival[10]

Award of Merit, Impact Docs Awards[11]

Gold Award & Special Mention by the Audience, Spotlight Documentary Film Awards[12]

Audience Award, 2019 #AlArdXVI Awards[13]

See also[edit]

ICJ Advisory Opinion

Iron Wall

The International Court of Justice


  1. 1.0 1.1 Bahour, Sam. "The way forward may be buried in the wall" Mondoweiss 03/08/2018 https://mondoweiss.net/2018/08/forward-buried-wall/
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Shlaim, Avi. "International law gave a clear ruling against Israel's wall. But nothing happened" Middle East Eye 31/07/2018 https://www.middleeasteye.net/opinion/international-law-gave-clear-ruling-against-israels-wall-nothing-happened
  3. Jerusalem... The East Side Story, IMDB https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3471852/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_1
  4. 4.0 4.1 Leah, Rachel. "Why does Israel's illegal separation wall still stand?" Salon 26/05/2018 https://www.salon.com/2018/05/26/why-does-israels-illegal-separation-wall-still-stand/
  5. Dugard, John. "Question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine" UN Economic and Social Council E/CN.4/2004/6 https://unispal.un.org/DPA/DPR/unispal.nsf/5ba47a5c6cef541b802563e000493b8c/8976be248c8e02ae85256db1004dd7cc?OpenDocument
  6. International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion Finds Israel's Construction of Wall 'Contrary to International Law' Press release ICJ/616 09/07/04 https://www.un.org/press/en/2004/icj616.doc.htm
  7. UNGA A/RES/ES-10/15 https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/526686?ln=en
  8. "Student Blog – A Review Of The Documentary "Broken: A Palestinian Journey Through International Law"" Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations, 16/10/2020. https://genevadiplomacy.ch/student-blog-an-interview-by-michael-richey-mir/
  9. "Broken: A Palestinian Journey Through International Law" ICRC Alumni 2020. https://icrc-alumni.org/news/item/468-broken-a-palestinian-journey-through-international-law.html
  10. Winners MIFVIF https://mifvif.weebly.com/winners-mifvif-2019.html?fbclid=IwAR1xafCwKpp_k2Um6qbRxex0AmQR-ekIA095NHMEOQh6QzZ7U9naoMLL48Q
  11. Impact Docs Awards 2019 https://impactdocsawards.com/winners-january-2019/merit-january-2019/
  12. 2018 Spotlight Documentary Film Awards http://www.spotlightdocawards.com/2018awards.html
  13. # AlArdXVI - Awards https://www.alardfilmfestival.com/news/alardxvi-awards

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