Oscar-Nominated Palestinian Filmmaker Detained At Customs

Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat

Emad Burnat — the director of the Oscar-nominated documentary “5 Broken Cameras” — landed in Los Angeles yesterday ahead of Sunday’s awards ceremony to a less than pleasant welcome. Rather than the easy transit he had experienced during his previous five visits to the U.S., customs officials detained him, his wife, and six-year old son in a small room in Los Angeles International Airport and couldn’t believe that he was in town to attend the prestigious event.

According to Burnat, customs agents wouldn’t accept the scanned versions of the official documents that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sends its nominees. Burnat then texted documentarian Michael Moore to let him know that he was being threatened with being sent back to Turkey without more proof that he was attending the Academy Awards. Moore described what happened more fully in a post on his blog yesterday:

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.

After being held for somewhere between one and two hours, with repeated suggestions that the U.S. may not let him into the country – saying that they may send him back home – the authorities relented and released Emad and his family.

Moore also documented the events in a series of tweets to his 1.4 million followers, not hiding his beliefs about the motives behind Burnat’s threatened deportation:

The holding of Burnat, director of the first Palestinian film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary, remains puzzling as he would have had to go through the visa process before entering the U.S. on his previous visits and likely did so again. Burnat was also detained for six hours by Israeli security when trying to cross the border into Jordan to catch his flight to the U.S.

When asked about the situation during today’s press brief, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland deflected the question to the Department of Homeland Security. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — which is a part of DHS — did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the detention of Burnat. “Travelers may be referred for further inspection for a variety of reasons to include identity verification, intent of travel, and confirmation of admissibility,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement to Reuters. “The United States has been, and continues to be, a welcoming nation.”