'Budrus', the film. Don't miss it!

October 8, 2010
Richard Kuper


It takes a village to unite the most divided people on earth

See also The Jewish Daily Forward, How Will Jews React to ‘Budrus’? 6 October 2010 and  the JNews review back in March 2010.

About Budrus

Budrus is an award-winning feature documentary film about a Palestinian community organizer, Ayed Morrar, who unites local Fatah and Hamas members along with Israeli supporters in an unarmed movement to save his village of Budrus from destruction by Israel’s Separation Barrier. Success eludes them until his 15-year-old daughter, Iltezam, launches a women’s contingent that quickly moves to the front lines. Struggling side by side, father and daughter unleash an inspiring, yet little-known, movement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories that is still gaining ground today. In an action-filled documentary chronicling this movement from its infancy, Budrus shines a light on people who choose nonviolence to confront a threat.  The movie is directed by award-winning filmmaker Julia Bacha (co-writer and editor of Control Room and co-director Encounter Point), and produced by Bacha, Palestinian journalist Rula Salameh, and filmmaker and human rights advocate Ronit Avni (formerly of WITNESS, Director of Encounter Point). Read more information about the crew and cast.

While this film is about one Palestinian village, it tells a much bigger story about what is possible in the Middle East. Ayed succeeded in doing what many people believe to be impossible: he united feuding Palestinian political groups, including Fatah and Hamas; he brought women to the heart of the struggle by encouraging his daughter Iltezam’s leadership; and welcoming hundreds of Israelis to cross into Palestinian territory for the first time and join this nonviolent effort. Many of the activists who joined the villagers of Budrus are now continuing to support nonviolence efforts in villages from Bil’in to Nabi Saleh to Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem.

Budrus includes diverse voices– from the Palestinian leaders of the movement and their Israeli allies to an Israeli military spokesman, Doron Spielman, and Yasmine Levy, the Israeli border police captain stationed in the village at that time. While many documentaries about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict either romanticize the notion of peace, or dwell entirely on the suffering of victims to the conflict, this film focuses on the success of a Palestinian-led nonviolent movement.

In a keynote address immediately following the world premiere of Budrus at a Gala screening at the Dubai International Film Festival in December 2009, Her Majesty Queen Noor Al Hussein of Jordan praised the film, stating that Budrus“Gives an enormous amount of hope… It’s a story which will have an impact and can help bring [about] change.”

Budrus received the Panorama Audience Award, Second Prize, at the Berlin International Film Festival in February 2010. It will be screening in world-renowned festivals around the world throughout 2010. Visit our Events page to find it in a theater or festival near you. For information regarding the rights of the film, and how to bring it to your community, visit the Budrus FAQ.

Just Vision has been laying a foundation for the strategic outreach campaign that we will launch in conjunction with Budrus by reaching out to a wide range of journalists, influential figures, community leaders, policymakers, students and educators in order to ensure that the film is seen, covered in the press as well as incorporated into community and educational programming.

Winner, Panorama Audience Award Second Prize, Berlin International Film Festival, 2010

Winner, Special Jury Mention, Tribeca Film Festival, 2010

Winner, Audience Award, San Francisco International Film Festival, 2010


A Film Highlighting Non-violent Resistance to Israeli Policies, and Israel’s Tough Response, To Get U.S. Premiere, With Jewish Support.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis, 6 October 2010, issue of October 15, 2010

Protesters in the Palestinian town of Budrus were growing frustrated. After months of nonviolently demonstrating against the Israeli separation barrier being built through their olive groves, the demonstrators faced increased force from Israeli border police who were firing tear gas and swinging batons. Young Palestinians began tossing rocks at the soldiers despite pleas from protest organizers, and Israeli forces occupied the town, sending live ammunition down the narrow streets.

These scenes, which took place in the West Bank six years ago, are now coming to a mass audience in America in “Budrus,” a new documentary premiering in New York in October.

For American Jews whose image of Palestinian resistance to Israel is dominated by violence and terrorism, the film promises to highlight the current wave of Palestinian civic resistance.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, who has yet to see the film, views the situation the film depicts as part of a broader trend that he supports — and he thinks American Jews will see it that way, as well.

“You can’t follow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict generally and not be aware that there seems to be growth in the assertiveness and the extent of nonviolent protest, and I think it’s a constructive development,” he said.

Not every Jewish communal official agrees. The American Jewish Committee’s associate director of communications, Ben Cohen, who has not yet seen the film, predicted that American Jewish reaction to the movie will be skeptical. “Most people are not going to assume that because the soldier is armed and the activist is not [in one frame], all the violence is on one side,” he said.

The documentary, which has won plaudits on the film festival circuit, depicts a mostly nonviolent series of protests against the separation barrier that Israel has set in place between its citizens and West Bank Palestinians. The long trail of fences and walls was built in response to the second intifada, an extended campaign of suicide bombings against civilians by Palestinian terrorist groups. But the ostensible security barrier often deviates from the internationally recognized Green Line that separates Israel from the occupied territory to go deep into the West Bank, taking in acres of Palestinian land, and sometimes separating villagers from their own fields, groves and farms.

The film depicts one village’s protest against this expropriation in 2003 and 2004 by a coalition that included members of Fatah and Hamas, as well as Israeli Jews and international supporters. Due to their protests, the route of the barrier around Budrus was eventually changed to hew closer to the pre-1967 borders.

Protest Leader: Iltezam Morrar features prominently in the film as an unlikedly leader of the protests against the barrier.

just vision
Protest Leader: Iltezam Morrar features prominently in the film as an unlikedly leader of the protests against the barrier.

“This film came out of a constant question that we got: ‘Where’s the Palestinian Gandhi?’” said Ronit Avni, founder and executive director of the American not-for-profit organization Just Vision, which produced the film. Avni said that audiences told her: “If Palestinians adopted nonviolence, there would be peace. That is the assumption that is dominant in the Israeli and the American Jewish public.”

Since 2004, nonviolent resistance against the separation barrier has grown far beyond Budrus. Similar movements are active in about 10 Palestinian towns and villages, including high-profile instances in Bi’lin and Ni’lin.

As in Budrus, the army has routinely broken up the protests by using tear gas canisters and rubber bullets, and sometimes, live fire. On the Palestinian side, cases of stone throwing have occurred. Protesters have been injured and killed in these demonstrations. The Israeli army says that more than 100 soldiers have been hurt, some seriously. Still, few question these demonstrations represent a fundamental break with the tactics of the recent past.

Avni’s group, which advocates nonviolent cooperative efforts between Israelis and Palestinians toward resolutions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, created the documentary mostly from footage taken by activists and observers during the events in Budrus. Coupled with contemporary interviews, the footage depicts the efforts of Ayed Morrar, a local activist, to organize protests against the separation barrier. His daughter, Iltezam, a teenager at the time, plays an important role in the protests and in the film, at one point throwing her body into a pit being dug by an Israeli bulldozer, effectively halting work on the barrier.

The film graphically depicts the sometimes aggressive response of the Israeli security forces tasked with protecting the demolition crews and controlling the crowds at Budrus. A female Israeli border patrol officer, seen in the film hitting Palestinian women with a baton, narrates some of the footage.

“Part of what this unarmed resistance is about…[is], you are trying to hold up a mirror; you shame the wrongdoers into changing their behavior,” said the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation’s senior research fellow and co-director Daniel Levy, who has participated on panels following screenings of the film. “It’s easy to say all the inequities of the occupation are because of Palestinian violence. As soon as you don’t have that place to go to, the idea is, you have to look deeper inside yourself.”

But Cohen said that the Palestinian nonviolent strategy will not win sympathy from American Jews. He said that the participation of local Hamas leaders in the protests invalidated them because of that group’s role in sponsoring numerous terrorist attacks.

“If I see Hamas participate in a demonstration, it doesn’t have to end in a specific terror act for me to underline the point that Hamas’s presence belies the claim of nonviolence, because Hamas is based on violence,” he said.

He rejected the view that the proximate goal of a particular rally mattered more than the broader ideology of the participants.

Supporters of “Budrus” say that this film is bound to spark debate among American Jewish audiences. Indeed, a Jewish group is among its funders.

At a panel discussion about “Budrus” that followed a screening at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival earlier this year, there was “this incredibly civil conversation,” said Elise Bernhardt, executive director of the Foundation for Jewish Culture, which funded the film through its Lynn and Jules Kroll Fund for Jewish Documentary Film.

“To my mind, whether I agree with the perspective, it doesn’t matter, because I think what [the] filmmakers are after is to get a conversation going about what are the options here to solve this problem,” Bernhardt said.

Budrus was not the first town to adopt nonviolent tactics against the separation barrier. But according to Mohammed al-Khateed, a leader of the protests in Bi’lin and of a committee that coordinates protest activities around the West Bank, Budrus’s success in changing the route of the barrier was influential.

“If we use the violence it will be confused, and the Israelis will use the military reason and the military excuse and the security excuse to attack and to strengthen their occupation under the security regime,” Khateed said.

The film opened in theaters in Britain at the end of September. After its U.S. premiere in New York in early October, “Budrus” is scheduled to appear at theaters in New York, Boston, Washington, Los Angeles and Denver.

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathankazis@forward.com or on Twitter @joshnathankazis


Budrus – paradoxical hope in a threatened Palestinian village

A US-Israeli-Palestinian film team documents villagers’ bitter battle to save their land from Israel’s encroaching Separation Wall

By JNews, 25 March, 2010
Budrus, the film

Budrus the village is in the Ramallah district of the occupied West Bank, very near the pre-1967 Israeli border. In 2004, it was one of many Palestinian villages threatened by the planned route of the separation barrier. In that particular area, nine villages were to be walled into an isolated enclave, surrounded by fences on all sides.Budrus the film, produced by a US-Israeli-Palestinian team from the video group Just Vision, and directed by Brazilian filmmaker Julia Bacha, had its UK premier on the 20th and 21st of March as part of the annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival.

Too often at the end of yet another film about the occupation we are left with a sense of bitter helplessness and a debilitating pessimism. This film is worth watching because it is moving without being sentimental; and because it tells the truth about the grinding Israeli regime in the occupied West Bank but also provides an opening for action, even for hope. It is above all an activist film, in the sense that its audience can leave it both angry at the injustices described, and galvanised to support the aims of the film’s protagonists, whose determined struggle makes them hard to forget.

The 78-minute documentary, edited from 250 hours of film by Israeli, Palestinian and international activists, tells the story of a popular uprising by the villagers against the separation wall, whose planned route would have appropriated large tracts of their land. This particular uprising was led by a coalition of activists that undermines many preconceptions.

Palestinian women lead this struggle together with men; Jewish Israelis stand shoulder to shoulder with Palestinians against Israeli soldiers; and the rallying chant at demonstrations calls Hamas, Fatah and the Popular Front [for the Liberation of Palestine, PFLP] to join hands against the bulldozers that are uprooting their trees in an authentically local struggle, based on the people’s very concrete link to the land, and on a sense of insulted justice.

The result of this particular local struggle was that the route of the separation barrier was changed. But perhaps the image that most represents its spirit is that of young men and women climbing at dawn up onto the fence that is encroaching on their lands, snipping at it and swaying it back and forth until it falls to the ground. They know it will be rebuilt very quickly, and yet they are determined to defy it, and will do so again.

The filmmakers chose wisely when they decided to give the narration and the definitions of the limits of discourse to Ayed Murar, a charismatic ex-prisoner who is one of the leaders of the struggle in the village. It is he who elucidates the reasons for the choice of non-violent resistance to the wall (‘not out of politeness,’ he clarifies). It is he who is seen at the end of the film, after the route of the wall has been pushed back and away from the village’s lands, walking away from the camera to join the activists of a neighbouring village, Ni’lin, to support the same struggle in a different place, because although the local battle is won, the broader campaign continues.

The planned route of the wall would have enclosed a group of nine villages

The film develops slowly, from the first arrival of the bulldozers and the forces that guard them, through the early protests and mobilisation of people in the village, to the insistence of Ayed’s daughter, Iltezam, on women’s participation in the demonstrations. At all times, non-partisan grassroots struggle is stressed. Hamas, whose ideology is very far from that of Ayed, is nonetheless described by him as ‘an authentic part of Palestinian society.’ All those who choose to join the struggle, based on the wish to protect the lives and livelihood of the villagers, are welcome. In a sense, the process depicted in the film is a microcosm of a potentially broader process of change in Israel/Palestine: one based on solidarity and respect, and not on inequality, tribal identity and abuse of power.Rare insight is provided by interviews with a border guard fighter, Yasmine Levy, who is proud of being a woman combatant but must contend with the fact that the villagers come to recognize her, learn her name, and call out to her to cross the lines. A more banal approach is represented by an army officer, who speaks platitudes in fluent American English.

The film guides its viewers through the gradual escalation of violence on the part of the border guards, and, as Ayed says, ‘they elaborated their tactics, so did we.’ The struggle grows more desperate and more bitter as beatings are replaced by tear gas, rubber-coated bullets and live firearms. In one poignant scene, after some of the activists criticise stone-throwing by youths in the village – one young boy, Hassan, is arrested during a raid. Only women are in the street at the time, and the fury and despair are palpable. One woman grapples hand-to-hand with an armed soldier, and even tries to grab his sub-machine gun. Another bends to the ground and in a moment the jeep that carries Hassan to detention is pelted with stones. No text or voice-over accompanies this scene.

When the Israelis enter the arena the balance shifts subtly. This is now no longer only a struggle for home but also a public symbol: in front of the cameras, Jews embarrass Jews and come between the soldiers and the villagers. The Israeli activists self-consciously challenge assumptions. It is a moment of danger for the film, but it manages not to fall into romanticism, because the Israeli activists are thoughtful, and wary of self-congratulation. They are also very few. It is the local Hamas activist, a teacher in the village, who expresses their role best, when he describes his surprise at the genuine commitment of Jewish activists, who stand with him against Jewish Israeli soldiers.

The border guards and army are also surprised – and displeased. They are drawn into arguments, in Hebrew. They constantly try to isolate the Israelis, in order to make sure that the only victims of any real violence are ‘the locals.’

Perhaps the most moving moment in the film is when Iltezam describes her decision, despite her fear, to move past soldiers and border guards and stand in front of a bulldozer that is uprooting the village’s olive trees. In the footage, the bulldozer (probably driven by a Palestinian) reverses and retreats before her determined silhouette.

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Map by Ha’aretz

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