I flinch every time I read a headline that includes the words Israel, Palestine, West Bank, or Gaza. Usually the articles contain horrific news: suicide bombs maiming Israeli civilians, troops dragging Palestinians off their ancestral lands, escalating anger and violence. At long last, the documentary film Budrus brings good news, a tiny ray of hope in what's seemed to be an ocean of despair.
Beginning in 2001, Israel built a security wall more or less along the 1949 Armistice line,the Green Line, between Israel and the Palestinian West Bank. In many cases this wall meandered away from the Green Line, following a surreal course that arbitrarily seized Palestinian land.
The documentary tells what happened in the tiny town of Budrus when Israeli security forces decided to extend the security wall through the town's ancient olive groves and cemetery. In 2003, Budrus' 1400 residents united in a protracted nonviolent campaign against the wall, eventually forcing the government of Israel to back off and move the wall west to the Green Line.
Directed by Julia Bacha (and produced by Bacha, Ronit Avni, and Rula Salameh) the documentary skillfully mixes archival footage of the actual conflict with recent interviews with the Palestinian and Israeli principals: Ayed Morrar, Iltezam Morrar, Ahmed Awwad, Yasmine Levi, Kobi Snitz, and Doron Spielman. Although it's impossible not to sympathize with the plight of Budrus residents faced with the loss of their ancient trees, the Israeli stance -we need to stop the killing of our civilians- is understandable. Budrus lets viewers hear what both sides have to say and trusts us to draw our own conclusions.
There were several reasons why nonviolent resistance worked in Budrus.
1. There was excellent leadership. The key leader was Ayed Morrar, a member of the Fatah Party, who the Israelis had imprisoned several times and who learned about nonviolent resistance in his most recent incarceration. Ayed is a natural community organizer who convinced angry Budrus residents of the efficacy of nonviolence, got them involved, and kept them with the program over an eighteen-month period.
2. The campaign included everyone in Budrus. Ayed Morrar's then fifteen-year-old daughter, Iltezam, convinced her father that women should be part of the front-line confrontation with the Israeli security forces and bulldozers. She then assumed a major leadership role. The documentary's most memorable scene shows a huge backhoe pulling out an olive tree, whereupon Iltezam jumped in the hole and forced the backhoe to retreat.
3. Because the entire Budrus community was involved, old political loyalties were set aside and there was enough support for a protracted campaign. The other adult leader of the resistance was Ahmed Awwad, a Hamas member, who worked effectively with Ayed, Iltezam, and the others.
4. There was support from Israeli peace activists. Kobi Snitz and other Israelis participated in the resistance, which encouraged the Budrus residents and attracted worldwide attention.
5. The demonstration had a simple focus. The Budrus residents didn't dispute Israel's right to protect itself with a wall, but rather the location. Throughout the protracted struggle they repeated a compelling plea:move the wall out of our olive groves and cemetery.
6. The heavy-handed Israeli tactics got media attention. Particularly after the Budrus women got involved, the Israeli and international media filmed the confrontations. The Israeli high command escalated the confrontation by beating women as well as men and using live ammunition. This produced compelling vignettes for the nightly news and damning publicity for Israel.
7. There were no Israeli settlements near Budrus. One of the reasons the security wall deviated from the Green Line was the presence of new Israeli settlements in the Palestinian West Bank. Therefore, the wall periodically looped deep inside Palestinian land to protect a settlement and provide it safe access to Israel. Because there were no settlements near Budrus, the Israelis had no convincing rationale for their route through olive groves and the cemetery. In the end, it was easier for them to back off.
There are many who believe that the situation in Israel-Palestine and the Middle East, in general, has deteriorated to the point where nonviolence is no longer a viable alternative. The documentary Budrus proves this to be untrue.
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But it makes clear that nonviolence can't be a tactic. It has to be a strategy. And for in order for a long-term strategy to succeed, there has to be effective leadership. There has to be men like Ayed Morrar and Ahmed Awwad and women like Iltezam Morrar.
Budrus is currently making the round of film festivals. Everyone who cares about the Middle East -- all of us who cling to the faint hope that the anger and violence can diminish rather than escalate - should see this inspirational movie.
Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.