Bad fence, good neighbor
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, October 29, 2010
For those who despair of ever seeing peace in the Middle East, "Budrus" offers both sobering and cheering evidence that progress is possible. Documentary filmmaker Julia Bacha has made a firsthand account of the efforts of a tiny Palestinian village where the all-too-familiar narrative of violence and mutual misunderstanding are replaced by a new story of nonviolence, cooperation and hope.
The film begins in 2004, when the Israeli government announced plans to build a security barrier in Budrus, a West Bank village whose 1,500 inhabitants tend olive groves that have been in their families for generations. The barrier would have cut some of the owners off from their trees - which represent not just their livelihood but their very identity. In protest, a local citizen named Ayed Morrar organized his neighbors to adopt the methods of Gandhi and King, stand before the bulldozers and Israeli soldiers and stop the construction of the barrier.
"Budrus" chronicles how Morrar's small act grew to a series of 55 demonstrations over 10 months, during which the village's women, Israeli peace activists and international supporters joined the group. In a canny move, Bacha also interviews two of the Israeli soldiers, one of them a woman who was the daily target of taunts from the Budrus women to put down her gun and join them. (Although she joined the border police expressly because it was "more assertive" and had opportunities for women, she seems unaware of the irony when she condemns the Budrus activists for sending women to the front lines of their demonstrations.)
Although Morrar and his 15-year-old daughter Iltezam emerge as the clear heroes of "Budrus" - at one point even seeming to convince the local Hamas leader of the wisdom of nonviolence - the film isn't one long kumbaya moment. When the soldiers are ordered to ratchet up their tactics, they occupy the town and begin using live ammunition, which some of the local boys answer with stones.
But even those dispiriting scenes give way to Morrar and his fellow activists pleading with the youths not to throw rocks. And finally, "Budrus" offers not just its protagonists but viewers, too, a way out of what too often seems like an intractable morass of aggression and reaction.
No spoilers here, but just an observation: It's not clear whether schoolchildren in a pivotal scene are flashing the victory sign or the the peace sign. In "Budrus," it's the same thing.
Contains one very brief instance of profanity. In English, Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles.