Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 16, 2011 8:45 pm 
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A Palestinian youth cuts a temporary segment of the wall

It took a village to save a village

This is a short documentary (in Arabic, Hebrew, and English) about how Ayed Morrar, one Palestinian activist in the little town of Budrus in the Occupied Territories, in 2003 and 2004 organized a nonviolent resistance to make Israel reroute its "Security Wall" and not cut into the town, its land, and its cemetery. The resistance spread to other villages.

Budrus, a town of 1,500 people, was going to be divided and encircled by the wall and in the process lose 300 acres of land and 3,300 olive trees, trees not only essential to the economic survival of the villagers but sacred to their families' tradition over many generations. Morrar's 15-year-old daughter, Iltezam, an aspiring doctor whose very name (إلتزام) means "commitment," was decisive in the action's success. She helped organize the women to demonstrate, and jumped into a pit dug by an Israeli bulldozer (provided by the American company Caterpillar), which forced the destruction of property -- primarily the uprooting of olive trees -- to be halted. Ayed, a member of Fatah, cooperated with Ahmed Awwad, a Hamas member -- an unusual alliance -- and with mostly young Israeli peace activists -- a decisive step. The jumpy, heavily armed young Israeli border patrol army soldiers did not want to beat and gas young Israelis much like themselves. Their local commander, Yasmine Levy, was a woman whom the Palestinian women and girls taunted by name in their chants, Yasmine having a close Arabic equivalent, and tried to make friends with. The soldiers had less compunction about beating the Palestinan women, but they were undaunted. Yasmine later, as a civilian, gave the film crew a full interview about the experience.

The participation of the Israeli activists was an eye-opener. It was the first time the Budrus youth had directly encountered any Israelis who were neither hostile settlers nor police but friendly and sympathetic. Awwad says, "We had already heard that there were some Israelis who wanted peace with the Palestinians. But these demonstrations exceeded expectations. . . . In these marches I saw these Israeli voices in real life; it wasn’t just something I heard about."

This is a story of pioneering nonviolent action and also an example of grassroots organizing at its most dedicated and effective. In the early footage, shot by over a dozen different photographers (who had to dodge Israeli soldiers trying to seize their cameras or take away their batteries) the villagers, at first only men and boys, hold their ground for days, though they cannot finally keep the bulldozers and soldiers from coming and uprooting a lot of olive trees that die because Budrus hasn't the facilities the Israelis have to water anything they want to make green. The soldiers move in and stand their ground and brandish rifles, declaring the land they've occupied to be a "military zone" and off limits to anyone but them. But as more and more people join the fray, including South African activists and other international observers, the Israeli soldiers' task becomes one of crowd control.

Eventually things turn ugly when the boys of the village begin throwing stones at the Israeli soldiers and their vehicles and one of the boys is arrested. The Israeli soldiers start shooting live bullets and move into the village to try to stop the boys from surrounding and stoning them, and they occupy some buildings. Somehow things subside again, though, and the film shows us maps to indicate how the Israelis rerouted their "security wall' to go outside a previous line and not through the village of Budrus at all.

Bacha, who worked on the excellent 2004 film Control Room (about coverage of the Iraq war by Al Jazeera) and directed as well as wrote and edited Encounter Point, a 2006 documentary, also about international nonviolent action in Israel (which I have not seen), deserves great credit for weaving all the footage here into a coherent, easily followed whole. It also includes excerpts from Israeli TV news broadcasts about the ongoing events in Budrus; interviews with Ayed Morrar, his, family, hes daughter Iltezam, and other locals; with American-born Israeli army spokesman Doron Speilman, who justifies and excuses the border unit's operations; with Israeli peace activist Kobi Snitz; and with Yasmine Levy. There is also coverage of some meetings of demonstrators and observers. Everything is presented to form a sense of the chronology of events that is coherent, despite the complicated and sometimes chaotic progress of these events. The film is the story of a small movement and of an event. It's also the portrait of a quietly remarkable man, the indefatigable activist, Ayed Morrar, whose iltizām is shown by the fact that he, like other members of his family, has been in and out of jail or hiding all his life.

To me this is a hopeful film, though the Palestinian friend with whom I watched it, an Arab born in Israel, was deeply disturbed by the vivid reminders it provides of the ongoing destruction of Palestinian property, culture and society that is life in the Occupied Territories. As has been noted elsewhere, the effectiveness of nonviolent protest in the Occupied Territories as a whole is beyond this film's scope. But it has been shown to Palestinian villagers to inspire them, and it has the potential to be inspiring beyond that level. It is moving to see Arabs of all ages, including old women gnarly from cultivating olives for fifty years, and young Israelis marching and chanting together in Arabic, Hebrew, and English. One of the chants and slogans was "We Can Do It." And they did it.

A NY Times article discusses the role of nonviolent protest in the territories and the influence of this film.

Queen Noor of Jordan and Bacha discussed the film on Charlie Rose at the time of its US theatrical release in early October 2010. It was shown earlier at the San Francisco, Tribeca, and other film festivals.

Budrus trailer.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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