Tikkun Magazine, July/August 2010
Just Vision, 2010
Review by Michael Nagler
See this film. This is now the second great documentary on Palestinian/Israeli nonviolence by the same team at Just Vision that made Encounter Point. Budrus sold out every screening at the recent Tribeca Film Festival in New York where Arab, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim community leaders, academics, journalists, and celebrities attended, including filmmaker Michael Moore. It won the Special Jury Mention. Reviews and media coverage in outlets including ABC News, The Jewish Week, Al Jazeera International and Arabic, Channel 10 in Israel, The Washington Post, and The Nation have been dazzling.
Budrus is the inspiring story of a nonviolent campaign that worked: activists forced the Israeli government to stop driving the "separation barrier" (aka apartheid wall) around six small West Bank villages. The barrier would have imposed even more than the usual humiliation and hardship; to add insult to injury, in the village of Budrus it would have plowed through a cemetery and cut residents off from their ancient olive trees—from their livelihood and contact with the earth.
But it failed. After ten months of almost daily confrontation with the IDF soldiers (including eventually the special border forces) who were sent out to declare the fields a "closed military zone," and after fifty-five planned demonstrations, the wall was rerouted almost to the Green Line.
The film focuses on community leader Ayed Morrar, a soft-spoken but extremely determined organizer who kept things moving ahead with patience and impressive skill, along with his courageous daughter, Iltezam.
There is "collateral healing" whenever nonviolence is practiced; just as, inevitably, there is collateral damage in war. In the first intifada, which was largely nonviolent with some lapses, urban dwellers created a whole network of services independent of Israeli help or authority: clandestine schools, food systems, and the care of neighbors' children when their parents were taken off to jail—the infrastructure of "beloved community." In the Budrus Satyagraha, as the film rightly emphasizes, it was the "heart unity" (to use Gandhi's term) between men, who started the action, and women (who were brought into the campaign by Iltezam and then her father just as they had been by Gandhi in South Africa), not to mention between Hamas and Fatah, and most impressively, between Palestinians and Israelis. In remote Budrus there were many whose only contact with Israelis when the campaign began had been with soldiers; now, as peace-loving Israeli citizens stood by their side, they learned that Jews can be their sisters and brothers.
The film provides an eye-opening glimpse of the power of nonviolence. It also gives a vivid picture, though there is no attempt to rub it in, of what occupation has done to the Jewish people. I will not dwell on that point, however.
Here are the things to watch out for in order to draw the deepest insights about nonviolent action from the film:
- The Hamas buy-in to the struggle was couched, as you might expect, in purely strategic terms: "If we use violence, the demonstrations won't last long; but with peaceful means, we could get international support." There is nothing wrong with strategic nonviolence, provided you don't think that this minimalist commitment will give you the full power of nonviolence itself; and provided that if you do not achieve your goal, you don't go away saying, "nonviolence failed; we better go back to armed struggle."
- While principled nonviolence is pursued whether outsiders appear likely to help or not, it is true that nonviolent insurrections have rarely succeeded without at least some attention from the international community. A stirring part of the film is the arrival of the South African delegation.
- A successful nonviolent movement against determined opposition requires three ingredients that the one at Budrus possessed: a just cause, determination or "relentless persistence," and the refusal to dehumanize the opponent (see the glossary in the resources section of our mettacenter.org website for all these terms).
- A successful nonviolent movement does not need a Gandhi, but it usually needs some leadership, like that of Ayed Morrar.
- Nonviolent movements also need some way to control dissident elements who try to use violence within the movement: among Palestinians, it is the shebab (young men) with their stones, while among U.S. activists it is the "Black Block" with bricks, as in Seattle.
- Nonviolence doesn't always "work" (get you exactly what you want), but it always does good work that makes the world a better place, often in ways you hadn't thought of. This crucial point was expressed by producer Ronit Avni at the showing I attended in San Francisco: that the wonderful uniting at Budrus of disparate elements within Palestinian society, a development that will make them much stronger for any future challenge, came not so much from a common enemy as from a higher goal.
Don't miss this film.
Michael Nagler is professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, founder and president of the Metta Center for Nonviolence Education (www.mettacenter.org), and author of The Search for a Nonviolent Future.
Nagler, Michael. 2010. Collateral Healing. Tikkun 25(4): 68