Today a documentary called Budrus
premieres at the Jerusalem Film Festival. The film, an Israeli-Palestinian coproduction, chronicles the nonviolent resistance by villagers in Budrus, a small Palestinian farming community of some 1,500 people about 30 km. northwest of Ramallah and three km. from the Green Line, against the construction of the security barrier whose route cuts through the village’s land.
The 80-minute film is an intimate portrayal of the village’s struggle,
through some 50 demonstrations, against the construction of the barrier.
Much of the footage is taken from Israeli, Palestinian and
international activists who were on the scene filming the unfolding
events. It is a difficult film for anyone to watch, especially Israelis.
While stones are thrown at soldiers towards the end of the campaign,
IDF troops are seen beating up civilians, including women. Unarmed
villagers, protecting their olive groves – to which they are bound for
their livelihoods – with their bodies against fully armed soldiers and
border police. Punches are thrown. Batons are wielded. Stun grenades are
lobbed. Live ammunition is fired. Arrests are made. Bulldozers are seen
uprooting olive trees. Israeli officers are filmed making remarks like,
“why do you throw stones when you see Israelis? Where’s the respect?”
The villagers are portrayed as a community banded together, struggling
for the land they have lived on for generations against an occupying
power erecting a barrier on Palestinian land.
The villagers are repeatedly shown saying they have no problem with
Israel building a barrier to defend its citizens, but that the barrier
should be built within Israel, not over the Green Line. While there is
cursory mention of the security reasons for the construction of the
barrier (the second intifada), the film focuses exclusively on the
It is certainly not the first film documenting the battle between Israel
and the Palestinians in the West Bank. But what piqued my interest and
led me to attend a pre-screening in Tel Aviv is the fact that Budrus
has garnered more
international awards than any other documentary recently, and it hasn’t
even been officially released yet.
AS OF this week, Budrus
the audience award at the San Francisco and Berlin international film
festivals. It won a special jury mention at the Tribeca Film Festival as
well as at Documenta Madrid 2010. It won the Witness Award at the
AFI/Discovery Channel Silverdocs documentary festival, and was feted at
the Sixth Dubai International Film Festival (where it received a gala
opening on the same level as Avatar).
Dubai rolled out the red carpet for it, hosting the Gulf’s big sheikhs
at the opening event. Jordan’s Queen Noor gave a keynote speech after
the film. Hotdocs
“outspoken” and “outstanding.” Variety
magazine called it “inspiring,” It received very positive press in
Berlin and London. It has been screened in Thessaloniki, Rio and Sao
Paulo. A glitzy panel was held for it in New York, with Queen Noor and
Robert De Niro attending, and with Christiane Amanpour moderating.
Michael Moore has even invited the film to his festival in Michigan. A
panel was also held for it on Capitol Hill in DC, with private
screenings for both Republican and Democrat lawmakers.
Coming at a time of a growing cultural and diplomatic boycott of Israel,
when our international image is at one of its all-time lows, and within
the context of persistent attacks against the Jewish state’s very
legitimacy, the film, when it opens worldwide, will do no favors to the
way the country is perceived abroad. Budrus
creators say their intention was to highlight nonviolent conflict
resolution as a way out of the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy, not to paint
Israel into a corner.
The film’s director, producers and marketers are reportedly making great
progress in finding worldwide distribution. In September, Budrus
will be screened at cinemas
across the UK and Europe, with some potential TV deals too. In October
it will open in America. It has already enjoyed a lot of attention in
the international media and has been featured on Al Jazeera, Abu Dhabi
TV and many other outlets in the Middle East. It has applied to various film festivals in the Middle East, including in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon. Dozens of
Palestinian cities have requested screenings, and the producers are
trying to get it on Israeli TV screens.
The film’s essence raises the question of whether nonviolent
demonstrations have the potential to achieve Palestinian national goals.
The answer, in the case of Budrus
is a resounding yes, evidenced by the fact that, as the film documents,
a political-legal decision was ultimately taken to reroute the barrier
away from the village and its olive groves. According to the IDF
spokesman interviewed in the film, the demonstrations had nothing to do
with the decision to reroute the barrier.
That may be true or not; what’s relevant is that anyone watching the
film will come to the conclusion that the villagers’ persistent
demonstrations forced the change. This brings to mind another recent
forced change in Israeli policy: the “nonviolent” and “humanitarian”
Gaza Freedom Flotilla, in whose wake Israel was forced, under
international duress, to significantly relax its blockade on the Gaza
focuses on how the
entire village mobilized against the barrier, and the assistance they
received from Israeli activists. Thus, as the documentary’s poster
reads: “It takes a village to unite the most divided people on earth.”
Nonviolent resistance to Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories,
supported in recent months by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad,
is gaining significant international support, creating severe headaches
for those whose task it is to explain Israeli policy.
Julia Bacha, Budrus
director, says it is a story of “Palestinian victory by unarmed popular
resistance.” “The framing of the film is about the route of the
barrier, but the movie is about community organization, how the
villagers connect with Israeli activists, and the role of women. It is
about capturing the imagination of what’s possible,” Bacha says.
The film ends with the protagonists heading to support their friends’
protest in Ni’lin, another Palestinian village fighting construction of
the security barrier. The “promise” that the film’s thesis presents,
that non-violent resistance can change Israeli policy, could serve as a
model for similar films from other Palestinian hot spots such as Nabi
Salah, Ni’lin, Bil’in, Sheikh Jarrah and possibly even Gaza. Israel’s
policymakers would do well to watch the film, and take note of its
reception across the world.