It takes a village to unite the most divided people on earth.
I knew next to nothing about the Palestinian and Israeli conflict before this documentary and I was left with more questions after watching. The village of Budrus relies on olive trees as a main source of revenue. When the Israeli government makes the decision to build a wall/fence (it’s referred to as both but is officially called the Separation Barrier) in order to protect the Israeli citizens from the increased violence that’s been occurring along the West Bank their route goes through Budrus. The problem is that Budrus is in Palestine, not Israel, and the route will uproot a majority of the olive trees as well as cut through the cemetery. The people of Budrus — men, women and children from all political factions — unite in order to save their land and their livelihood. Everything from here on out will be spoilers.
Budrus is a real live David-and-Goliath story played out for the world to see. At first this plays like a segment on the local news, and indeed there is some news footage cut in. The focus of the film is Ayed Morrar who has been involved in activism for most of his life. It seems like this might be a biopic about this man. Indeed he’s so candid about his life, freely admitting the cost of his activism has been years in prison and thus the loss of time with his family, especially his children, he will never get back. You could easily spend the whole documentary getting to know him and be happy. And he is indeed the rallying point for the film, being a likable guy who’s nonetheless aware of his own foibles as well as those of the system he’s trying to work with. He leads the people in nonviolent protests against the Israeli soldiers who are sent to ensure construction goes on. It’s not until his teenage daughter stands up to the soldiers herself that things really start to change though, as the villagers can literally see that nonviolence has results.
The Israeli army commander interviewed for this piece says early on he is aware the fence is going to intrude on Palestinian lands. But he never says why it’s necessary for it to go where they have planned it. From that point on I was with the people of Budrus because I didn’t have any reason not to be.
In fact, all the Israelis interviewed for this admitted what they were doing was in fact encroaching on Palestinian lands. There is a green line separating Israel from Palestine they could have built this wall at yet they didn’t. No explanation is given for this. It’s impossible to side with the Israelis when you learn they’re not only beating men, women and children alike but then they escalate to stun grenades, tear gas, and finally firing live ammunition. Not that the Palestinians don’t have their violent moments, because they do. At one point, there are young men who become so enraged with the treatment of their people they begin flinging stones at the soldiers. But the Israeli soldiers are asked to prove they have a just reason for declaring the region a military zone and they do not.
Soon word of the protests spreads and gains international attention. Even sympathetic Israelis come over to help protest what their own government is doing. The village of Budrus holds 55 protests over ten months until finally the route of the fence is changed and they are able to save not only their cemetery but 95% of their olive trees. The sad fact is this is considered a victory where the real victory would be the two sides living in peace. Even more depressing is the knowledge this was a political move from start to finish with Israel taking on the role of Goliath and deciding David wasn’t going to put to up much of a fuss, or not caring if he did.
And the fight didn’t conclude with the credits, rather Ayed continues to travel to other regions in Palestine to help his countrymen exercise nonviolence.
The fact Budrus transcends mere history to become a story about the power of the human spirit is what will awe and amaze you. Both sides are candid about their involvement, and there are too many lessons to recount here.
The image transfer is like a home movie. I’d be surprised to learn this was shot on anything more sophisticated than a mini-dv camera. And while it lacks in quality, focus, clarity, and all that other technical stuff, it was the right choice. Because what it does is reinforce the fact that this is real. That one choice personifies what screenwriters struggle with so often — show don’t tell. The lack of a soundtrack is also the right choice as it would have been far too distracting. Instead the music we hear is the chants of the protestors and their clapping hands as they attempt to unite. And the sound effects we get are the guns of the soldiers and the stones of the angry young men as they ping off surfaces.
The extras include the official trailer (3 min) and a Q&A with the Director (12 min) which is exactly that. Julia Bacha discusses how she came to be involved with the project and why Americans haven’t heard about this practice of nonviolence which has been going on since the ’20s. She’s also asked about the Jewish community both in America and worldwide and their feelings about the movie. One interesting fact I learned was although it varied by village, the Palestinians were offered some form of compensation at first for their land and trees. It was explained that accepting anything like that was tantamount to accepting the occupation as a whole. I’d like to have seen that point included in the film, as it only seems to strengthen the position the Palestinians were coming from. It’s really unfortunate this was shot in what appears to be the lobby of a theater as there are some really loud, drunk people very close by who all but drown her out.
Also included are a selection of other trailers (9 min) and Checkpoints Award (8 min) which is the portion of the Bergen International Film Festival ceremony during which Budrus won the 2010 Checkpoints Award. Lastly is What’s Your Calling? (6 min) a featurette that opens with a shot from 9-11 and George Bush’s voice, and becomes the story of how Just Vision, a group which hopes to support Palestinian and Israeli nonviolence, was founded.
It’s inspiring to be reminded of just what people are capable of accomplishing if only they put their minds together. It’s depressing to think there are so many similar fights going on still. Rent this in order to gain some sympathy and understanding for a plight few of us can really comprehend.