Culture, Israel

Seeing "Budrus" in Ramallah

It is one thing to know that peace-loving Palestinians exist, but quite another to join several hundreds [700, I have since learned] of Palestinians giving a standing ovation five minutes long to a film about non-violence. Last Wednesday night, I sat in an IMAX-sized theater in the West Bank Palestinian city of Ramallah for the grand opening of Budrus, a documentary about a village that successful relocated the security barrier off their lands through peaceful protest. I was overwhelmed, galvanized.
Budrus is a film that challenges everyone’s preconceptions — Jew, Arab, other — and aims to pry open space in reluctant hearts. Five years ago, the village of Budrus successfully averted the construction of the security barrier from cutting off a majority of their farming livelihood and through their cemetery. The film follows Ayed Morrar, Fatah activist turned community organizer, as he unites with local Hamas leadership, the town’s women led by his daughter, alongside Israeli activists. It heals doubts across multiple themes: the divide between Israelis and Palestinians, the rivalry between Fatah and Hamas, the place of women in Palestinian society, and the use of violence. A more inspiring combination couldn’t possibly be more remarkable to see, nor to witness its raccous support by the people of Ramallah.
Watching the film with hundreds of Palestinians made me anxious — did they even know what they were about to see? Did I? There is notable skepticism against non-violent means in Palestinian society, certainly well-justified. Indeed, my discomfort peaked anytime a Palestinian on screen was cudgeled by Israeli border police — the crowd would applaud his (or her) resilience.
But when teenage protesters briefly turn to rock-throwing on screen and scattered applause began percolating, it halted when Ayad and village elders denounced the use of violence. Violence, they said, only gives pretext for more brutal actions by the military and for branding them all as terrorists. After lights came up, I saw the loudest approval came from a gaggle of Arab teenagers. How important it was for them to see the success of non-violence after all other violent means failed. And how important it was for them to see the list of a dozen non-violent “popular resistance committees” growing since Budrus’ success five years ago, such as Bil’in, Nil’in and Sheikh Jarrah.
Also notable was the crowd’s eruption of applause to Ayad’s critical comment following Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s brief visit to their protests. Obviously a politician being a politician, Fayyad left early. Ayad tells the camera, paraphrased, “Politicians should be with their people on the ground, not hiding in an office.” The eruption of wild, enthusiastic applause then made me wonder about the obvious political elites in the room. A stinging public rebuke.
I watched the film still with my Jewish communal filter activated, measuring how well Jewish and Israeli crowds would receive this film. (The Jerusalem screening of it was today, which I missed due to Shabbes. It was wildly received in New York.) Undoubtedly, it will push them outside their comfort zone. But I expect them to find a Palestinians utterly unlike their common understandings. They would meet Ayad, his daughter Iltezam, the Hamas representative, and the villagers in a light that strains contemporary stereotypes.
But most of all, I joined the overwhelming standing ovation because I remembered why I do what I do. Budrus captures on film many moments where a Jew or an Arab admits newfound love of the other side. The central clip is when sixteen-year-old Iltezam discovers that all Israelis aren’t alike, that there are many Israelis who are good people. My heart soared hearing her and her father’s total surprise that their Israeli invitees — strangers to the territories and unproven friends — jumped to the front lines to protect them. The villagers in turn protect the Israelis from being targeted. Mutual inspiration is found in each other.
Those moments were so much more than passing plot notes. For me, they were high notes climaxing every subplot of hopelessness, doubt, weakness, lack of faith, and budding hope I ever felt about our work here. We peace activists are often accused of being the rosy-eyed dreamers, but in reality we are just the best at burying the doubt, swallowing the fear, and doggedly plowing ahead despite all reason to give up. To taste hope again, I was overwhelmed. I spent a good deal of the film sheepishly wiping tears from my eyes and controlling my composure.
That night in Ramallah, the standing ovation wasn’t just for a film. It was for us as Jewish and Palestinian peaceworkers together. When Ronit Avni and Irene Nasser of Just Vision took to the stage along side Ayed and Iltezam, the applause even swelled durther. I wondered what the Jewish community would think if they could attend. What would change by them just being in this room, seeing this?
Kol hakavod to the producers of the film, colleagues I deeply admire, for bring us this film. And for this hope.

13 thoughts on “Seeing "Budrus" in Ramallah

  1. If Palestinians, as a whole, made a truly strategic -rather than tactical- choice to truly embrace non-violence, this could be a game changer. However, Israel would be foolish to relinquish a hard strategic asset -land- for the promise of a non-quantifiable and whimsically transient promise -peace- unless it had some basis for trust. At present, there is precious little basis. As Mr. Kristof notes, the Palestinian definition of non-violence does not comport with reality. It is ‘ok’ to throw stones. Rocket attacks are excused if the rockets are inaccurate. Repeated promises to revoke or amend the PLO National Charter have not been kept. Article 9 of that Charter states explicitly: “armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine. This it is the overall strategy, not merely a tactical phase.”
    To date, unfortunately, violence against Israel and Israeli has been unceasingly glorified and enshrined, even by Palestinian ‘moderates’. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah movement recently extolled the “virtues” of Muhammad Daoud Oudeh, who masterminded the Munich Massacre. On Sept. 5, 1972, eight members of the Palestinian terror organization Black September broke into the athletes’ village at the Munich Olympics. They kidnapped and ultimately murdered 11 Israeli athletes and coaches. Oudeh, also known as Abu Daoud, planned the attack. He never expressed remorse for his killings. In a condolence telegram late last month, quoted in the official PA daily newspaper, Abbas referred to Muhammad Daoud Oudeh, as “a wonderful brother, companion, tough and stubborn, relentless fighter.”
    When incitement, as well as violence, is truly shunned by the Palestinians, -when Oudeh and his ilk are no longer presented as role models for Palestinian children -and Israelis trust that the change is strategic rather than tactical, then peace will be possible. May it happen sooner rather than later.

    1. However, Israel would be foolish to relinquish a hard strategic asset -land- for the promise of a non-quantifiable and whimsically transient promise -peace- unless it had some basis for trust.
      What about the hard strategic benefit of having that land be someone else’s problem?

  2. I haven’t seen the film, but I wonder, KFJ, if the jubilant Palestinian reaction you describe was a consequence of a perceived victory over Israel, rather than a revelry in the success of non-violence. If it had been violence which succeeded, then violence would have been cheered. Your focus on the methodology of Palestinian “resistance”, and not its goals, is strange. Yes, non-violence is infinitely preferable to bloodshed. Does that mean that those who preach the non-violent destruction of Israel are to be supported, merely because they choose one methodology in achieving unjust aims over another? Do non-violent tactics legitimize malicious intent?
    The ultimate goals should be an end to Palestinian rejectionism of partition, an end to outstanding claims and final settlement. I’m afraid, the only thing we’re witnessing is a shift from a violent war, which has decisively failed for the Palestinians, to the non-violent, legal and political challenge to Israel’s existence. I think you’re hard pressed, tears and all, to qualify this as progress.

  3. I had the opportunity to meet Ayad Morrar earlier this year in Beit Sahour (a village next to Bethlehem) and I was convinced then, as I am now, that he and his group are not preaching non-violent destruction of Israel. Ayed and Just Vision are preaching non-violent opposition to the occupation. It is lamentable and sad that they do not represent more of a critical mass of the Palestinian population (as far as I know) but nonetheless they should be applauded for having these convictions and succeeding in the face of almost impossible odds. I haven’t seen the film yet either but one aspect of it besides the non-violence that is particularly compelling to me is the involvement of women and children in a society that is adult male dominated.

  4. I understand the writer’s point of view. The “palestinian” Arabs have comlete justice on their side. The Israeli Jews do not
    have one quark of justice.
    7/11/2010, today Abbas said “conditons are not right for direct talk with the Israelis.

  5. Uzi, you seem to follow the conflict quite a bit. Perhaps you’ve read Hussein Ibish on the matter of “3rd party” initiatives, like independent non-violent resistance, or BDS. At the point it reaches “critical mass” it will immediately be absorbed and hijacked by Fatah or Hamas, by men less noble than Ayad Morrar, and this is precisely what is happening.
    As for women and children joining in, you’ve missed the point. It is an insult for a Palestinian man to be associated with “non-violent protest”. They consider it suitable for women and children. This isn’t about a wife having a fight with her husband and going out there with the kids, against his will, to protest the occupation. Women and children joining in is not a demonstration of female empowerment, but of their adherence to prevailing traditions.

  6. well, actually, the guy who led the Munich “massacre” was not planning on a massacre, but on a hostage taking. his idea was to exchange them for palestinian hostages in israeli prisons. of course you will say prisoners, not hostage. ok. whatever.
    in the event, the only reason anyone was killed was: first, two israeli machos tried to resist men with guns(a wrestler and boxer? i forget). if the pals had just intended on a massacre, they would have killed all the athletes right then and there.
    the rest of the athletes were killed when the stupid and provincial and maybe even anti-semitic german police attacked the bus that was taking the athletes with the kidnappers to a plane.
    finally the main point of the kidnapping and other acts of violence like airplane hijakking was to bring the pal cause to the forefront of the media, and, it worked.
    when israel bombs pal civilians from apache helicopters and f-16s, how can you blame them for suicide bombing?

  7. @anonymouse – I have not read Ibish but I will look him up. Thanks.
    I hear what you are saying about Palestinian machismo. But I still wonder if this is a signal in a shift in overall thinking in the Palestinian community and a readiness to move towards the west in some small measured way. yes it’s very small but I wonder nonetheless. Will Hamas continue to be male dominated? I expect yes. And the same with Fatah as well. Maybe the women and children are just playing their predetermined societal roles but maybe they are not. If they aren’t then I think we should all sit up and take notice and what has caused this shift in thinking.

  8. Anonymouse, you have no idea what’s what in Palestinian society. I would appreciate your not speculating and calling it fact. I met the organizers of the Bil’in and Nebi Sahleh committees this morning.
    Quite the other way around, the popular resistance committees are led predominantly by men, but with significant leadership by women. At Nebi Sahleh, there were three women leaders meeting with us (out of eight total) and two had been arrested as leaders.
    And particularly disturbing, the police have made special effort to target women’s participation by arresting them specifically. Their presence used to dissuade the IDF from using harsher methods of crowd dispersal, but that has turned out to be short-lived.
    What disturbs me most is Israel’s interest in breaking up peaceful protests. It was my understanding the IDF’s role is to secure settlements from terrorism, not put down rallies and marches. The stories here are saddening. Every time there is a new regional commander, there is a new tactic to end the protests: go after the men, go after the women, go after the internationals, go after the Israelis, go after the media, what have you.
    It’s not working, thank God, because if these peaceful protests were silenced, then what more violent methods would these peace-inclined people resort to? It’s incredibly stupid. Not to mention against every principle of democracy Israel claims to be the sole regional outpost of.

  9. Secondly, before I forget, the committees are resolutely and explicitly against being coopted by a political party. Notably, they are composed of people who are members of all the Palestinian political parties, even leaders. But the point of these is to be united against the occupation, not each other.
    And in the words of no less than three different organizers today, “We are not against the Jews or Israelis, we do not hate anyone. We are against the occupation. We want human rights and democracy.”
    These are not your TV villain Palestinians.

  10. I had no idea this blog received so much liberal Zionist readership, who are so on the fence that they’re still racist. Keep up the good work KFJ. I appreciate your humanistic view, as well as when you put the communal filter on, with admitting it. Completely appropriate and I am swayed by your approach to bridging communities.

  11. I was also at the screening in Ramallah and can also attest to a change in many Palestinian’s views on violence. I have met a lot of Palestinians over the last few years who are tired of the reality they live in and wish to find solutions, many with Israelis. It is a welcome change. I am not very left wing in my viewpoints and security and how Jews are viewed is extremely important to me. Although I don’t think it is safe to go as an Israeli Jew anywhere in the West Bank, I am finding more Palestinians open to Israel and avoid anti-Jewish comments. I see it as my duty to encourage/nurture these connections because in the end, there are two peoples between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, it is each of our responsibility to find ways to co-exist.

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