Women of Budrus march peacefully to save their olive tree orchard. Photo from Just Vision
I've never been a marcher or a protester. In large part, this is because of strong feelings I developed after the onset of the Iraq War in 2003. It was easy to observe that sixties style street demonstrations, no matter how big and outraged, were just about the least effective mode of political activism available in our 21st century plugged-in, online, politically deadlocked culture. The solution to bad public policy, I've always believed, is political: better candidates with more money, matched by deeper public awareness of the issues that matter.
If you feel the same way, prepare to have your assumptions challenged by "Budrus," a thoughtful new documentary produced by the Israel-Palestine peace group Just Vision, and directed by Julia Bacha. I saw the film Wednesday in New York as part of the Tribeca Film Festival, and I was genuinely moved by the story it tells of a 1,400-person Palestinian village that banded together–men and women, Hamas and Fatah–to nonviolently prevent the Israeli "security fence" from cutting through the olive tree orchards that have been this community's lifeblood for generations.
Despite the saccharine trailer, this really isn't a cheesy, hippie-dippie film. It's the story of how one town changed political reality on the ground by using human bodies to physically make the construction of the wall too much of a hassle for the Israeli army to pursue. In this effort, the people of Budrus were joined by a ragtag-looking band of Israeli and international leftists, including the Israeli mathematician/anarchist Kobi Snitz. When these Jewish Israeli young people first appeared on the screen, I silently groaned. With their dreadlocks and stoned-seeming demeanor, I couldn't imagine that they'd be credible representatives of the small but growing Jewish movement against the occupation, either to Palestinians, to Israelis, or on the international stage. They simply appear to be–and are–far outside the mainstream.
But at dinner after the film, I had the pleasure of meeting Iltezam Morrar, a young Palestinian woman who, alongside her father, was a leader in the Budrus protest movement. Iltezam's father Ayed was imprisoned by Israel five times for nonviolent offenses. She said that before she met these Israeli leftists, she thought all Israelis–even all Jews–were soldiers and bad people, without compassion or humanity. It was only after unarmed Israeli peace activists came to her father's house for tea that she realized Jews were like any other human beings.
Ronit Avni, the film's producer, made an excellent point: Before we look down on anarchist protesters, we have to realize they are, in fact, extremely effective ambassadors for peace. Here's how Snitz describes his role as an Israeli in solidarity with Palestinians:
Even ten Israelis at a demonstration can make a real difference. We know from the army's own declarations that their open fire regulations change as soon as they think there are Israelis around. For example, they are not to use live fire when there are Israelis around, and they are not to fire rubber bullets in a direction where they think there are Israelis.
The ideology that instructs the IDF to shoot live ammunition at protesting Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, but not protesting Jewish Israelis, is deeply fucked up. But those are the facts on the ground. The presence of Jews brings not only media attention to Palestinian pro-democracy efforts, but actually protects and empowers the nonviolent segments of the Palestinian nationalist movement–the people whose political empowerment is crucial for movement toward a two-state solution.
If you're interested in seeing "Budrus," the film will be at the AFI Silverdocs festival in DC and the Jerusalem Film Festival. Find out more here.