Middle East

Budrus: A Palestinian story of non-violent protest

Ayed Morrar addressing demonstrators
Ayed Morrar united Palestinians and Israelis in peaceful protests against Israel's separation barrier.

In the opening sequence of the new documentary film, Budrus, the camera follows a winding road to the home of Palestinian activist, Ayed Morrar.

"We don't have time for war. We want to raise our kids in peace and hope," he states in Hebrew, addressing any Israelis in the cinema audience.

Mr Morrar comes from one of six small villages close to the occupied West Bank's border with Israel, which were due to be encircled by the Israeli separation barrier in 2003.

The plans would have cut off Budrus residents' access to some 300 acres of land and torn up their olive trees.

The film, produced by a Palestinian and an Israeli, follows the villagers' largely peaceful protests against the barrier.

As the film is shown around the world - in New York and London as well as Israel, the West Bank and Gaza - it is being held up as a positive case-study of how non-violent solutions to conflict can yield results.

Director Julia Bacha who works with the non-profit group, Just Vision, says the documentary addresses a question her organisation is often asked.

"The question was: where was the Palestinian Gandhi? Why aren't Palestinians using non-violent resistance? If they used non-violence, there would be peace."

"We knew the situation on the ground was a little bit more complex than that… but we wanted to choose a successful story," she adds.

Rare unity

In Budrus, villagers held 55 demonstrations over 10 months.

Unusually, members of rival Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, presented a united front and women and girls joined the front line of the struggle.

At one point in the film, Mr Morrar's 15-year-old daughter, Iltezam, is seen stepping into the path of a bulldozer, forcing it to retreat.

Women marching in Budrus
Women were at the heart of the struggle to save the olive trees and land of Budrus.

"It's good to feel even when you're so small and have nothing, you can do this," she observes.

The role played by hundreds of Israeli peace campaigners is also underscored.

Some shot the compelling original footage which shows marches dispersed with tear gas and rubber bullets, and verbal confrontations with soldiers trying to uproot trees.

In some scenes, the situation looks hopeless. Budros is placed under curfew and live bullets appear to be fired by Israeli forces trying to establish control. When a young man is arrested, angry locals try to tear down the barbed wire of the security barrier with their bare hands.

Eventually, though, the Israeli government decides to change the route of the barrier, claiming it is a "political" decision, leaving locals access to 95% of their land.

Inspirational

Audience members at a small screening in East Jerusalem gave high praise to the documentary.

One Arab Israeli, Hani, said he found inspiration in it. "I think right now we need to develop our form of resistance and this is the right choice," he remarked.

"We need to just show the world that we're not violent, we're not terrorists, we don't want to kill Israelis, we just want our freedom."

"It was a brilliant movie," a young Israeli, Sefi, commented. "It really shows in an amazing way the consequence of the occupation from a personal point of view."

Among the voices included in the documentary was that of an Israeli army spokesman who maintains that Israel's objective of providing security "trumps everything."

However, the Israeli border police commander, Yasmine Levy, sent to ensure the wall got built according to the route set by the military, develops a more complicated relationship with local women who call out to her by name in protests.

While she continues to act on orders to block the protests, she is impressed by their resolve.

"Even if the women were beaten or shot, they had no problem with it. They went to all lengths to ensure the land would remain theirs," she remembers.

Israeli soldiers guarding a bulldozer
Israeli soldiers tried to prevent protesters from reaching the bulldozers being used to clear the land.

The documentary ends on a high note with people from Budrus joining similar campaigns to support other villages.

As a West Bank resident, the main protagonist, Mr Morrar needed Israeli permission to come to East Jerusalem for the film's opening night. It was refused.

However, he told the BBC that he had watched the film and liked it. He expressed hope its message would get across.

"Through our non-violent struggle, we prove that if you want to build security, you can do it without punishing people and encouraging them to take revenge on you," he said.

"I am sure that if any village in Palestine in general works exactly like Budrus then all of them will succeed like Budrus."

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