My “Budrus” Review

Just saw “Budrus” last night. (Why it takes independent films forever and a day to get to Chicago is beyond me. Aren’t we even considered a movie market any more? Sheesh…)

My two cents:

I think it’s a brilliant film in so many ways. I simultaneously experienced it as a compelling “how-to textbook” on grassroots organizing, an honest portrait of real nonviolent resistance in action, an up-close document of the human impact of the Occupation and a compassionate profile of life in one West Bank village.

It is also a masterfully constructed film that often transcends the documentary genre itself. Filmmakers Julia Bacha, Ronit Avni and Rula Salameh present us with a true story that has a genuine dramatic arc.

The story in short: in 2003, Ayed Morrar a remarkable Palestinian community leader, organized a nonviolent resistance movement to save his village Budrus from being destroyed by Israel’s Separation Barrier. He brought together an impressive coalition of local Fatah and Hamas members along with Israeli and international solidarity activists to resist the wall’s construction.

After some initial success, Budrus was put under military curfew and their resistance effort threatened to come apart. In the end, however, after ten months of steadfast resistance, the Israeli government relented and redrew the route of the fence, saving the village.

There is no question that “Budrus” is a profound and authentic document of what well-organized nonviolent resistance can truly achieve. It’s the kind of story that would move you even if it wasn’t actually true. And I won’t deny the story of these villagers’ courage left me deeply inspired.

And yet…

…and yet I must also confess to having a nagging feeling that there was one critical puzzle piece left out of the story. The film is essentially the document of one village and it more or less takes place within the bubble of this village’s exclusive universe. But I was somewhat disappointed that “Budrus” failed to explore the overall context of institutional oppression in which this one village’s story took place.

The film does indeed explain how the barrier cut significantly into Palestinian lands rather than simply follow the route of the Green Line. The filmmakers, however, never address the reasons why Israel chose to do this. There are many references to Israel’s security needs, but notably, no one ever asks the critical question: why, if security was the only reason for the barrier, didn’t Israel build it along the internationally recognized border between the West Bank and Israel proper?

The answer, of course, is that this wall is not just about security. It is also very much about about the settlements and about Israel’s desire to create its own unilateral border in advance of a final negotiated settlement. To wit: it is ultimately about taking land away from Palestinians.

If the film had included but one talking head to address this reality, viewers would understand the true stakes of Budrus’ struggle. But by leaving this context unexamined, the filmmakers essentially document one village’s travail without really explaining how it fits into a much larger injustice.

In truth, it must also be admitted that Budrus’ victory was and continues to be notably exceptional. While the film mentions briefly at the end that this kind of nonviolent resistance is ongoing in other West Bank villages, none of these villages have experienced anything near the level of Budrus’ success.

In fact, the exact opposite is happening. The Israeli military is brutally clamping down on the leaders of the popular committees that organize nonviolent campaigns. And although this repression is not regularly reported in the mainstream media, it is in fact unfolding on an almost daily basis.

Last Monday, for instance, it was reported that Abdallah Abu Rahmah, a leader in the Bil’in campaign was denied release from prison even though he has completed his twelve month sentence in full. Just yesterday we learned that the sixteen year old son of another jailed Bil’in activist leader, Adeeb Abu Rahmah, was arrested by a “a group of masked soldiers (who) forcefully entered the house without showing a warrant.”

Adeeb, by the way, was sentenced to one year but also remains in jail beyond his release date as the military prosecutors appeal his sentence. He will stay imprisoned “indefinitely” – which likely means for a long, long time. (That is Adeeb Abu Rahmah in the clip above. I encourage you to watch this incredible video document in its entirety if you can).

These kinds of actions, tragically, are taking a huge toll on local nonviolent resistance campaigns. With many of their leaders in jail or targeted for imprisonment, local committees (with the notable exception of Sheikh Jarrah) are reporting fewer numbers at their demonstrations. Those of us who are justifiably inspired by Budrus’ story should find these developments deeply, deeply troubling.

Bottom line? Please see “Budrus” and encourage your friends to do the same. Buy copies when it comes out on DVD and give them to anyone you know that needs to know that despite media portrayals to the contrary, there is a significant and important nonviolent resistance movement in the Palestinian community.

But after you see it, please don’t leave the film with the impression that this movement is experiencing the kind of success you’ve just witnessed. Israel is quite rightly threatened by Palestinian nonviolent resistance, and is currently doing its level best to crush this movement under its military heel. Alas, it is too often succeeding.

To learn more about these campaigns, you should regularly visit the blog of activist Joseph Dana, who has been indefatigably reporting from the ground in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. (He’s probably uploaded enough video onto his site to make hundreds of documentary films on the subject.)

And if the film inspires you to make a difference yourself, please visit the website of Taayush: Arab-Jewish Partnership and send them a much-needed donation.

5 thoughts on “My “Budrus” Review

  1. gitel sura

    I very much agree with Rabbi Brant’s analysis of the documentary Budrus, which points out both the positive and diisappointing aspects of the documentary. One thing to add is that the Wall affecting Budrus was built quite close to the Green Line, and its intrusion into Budrus agricultural land was more from indifference than for the purpose of land theft. Nothing much was at stake for Israel to re-route the Budrus Wall.

    In contrast, the Wall built near Bi’lin and other villages lies deep within Palestinian land, and is used to scoop up the village land for huge Jewish settlements and the infrastructure that supports them. It is there that the villagers’ struggle to regain their agricultural land has gone on for years, in the face of brutal repression, including relentless military raids into the villages, lethal force against those demonstrating for their rights, and imprisonment of the human rights activists.

    This is not in any way to say that the struggle by the people of Budrus was not entirely courageous and inspiring. It is to say that the film, which is has been widely released and relatively well-received both in Israel and the U.S., tells the truth, but not the whole truth.

  2. carlos

    Dear Rabbi,
    I was impressed by your profound analysis about Budrus’ victory being an exception, and how those who try to peacefully oppose the actions of Israel suffer a very severe treatment. It almost seems that the Israeli government prefers to ellicit a more violent response, so then its retaliatory actions will be “justified”.

  3. Clif Brown

    I saw Budrus today and concur with your review. There is another film called Bil’in Habibti that is also powerful, if the brief out-take I saw was an indication of the entire film.

    I asked a friend who is completely blind to the real situation in both Israel and the OT to accompany me to the showing of Budrus. As I expected, he did not take me up on it, though I offered a ride and the price of admission.

    If there were one thing I could add to Budrus, it would be a simple caption to convey what you mentioned – that peaceful demo leaders are now routinely being arrested. It seems to me such a thing could be easily spliced onto the end of the film.

  4. Joseph

    After watching this documentary, I was left feeling that there were significant pieces of the big picture that were left out, either purposely omitted or just because this was a very one-sided study of this issue. A fully-researched study of the issue would include all perspectives, both from the Palestinian side as well as the Israeli. And I was also left wondering if the land that was planted with olive trees was privately owned or was in fact public land that was encroached on. I do not know these answers. And I do not doubt that this was a real tragedy, one that may better have been avoided from the start. But, the documentary left more questions than answers. So, just watching this film will not give you a proper understanding of the true story; it will only give you the perspective of the Palestinians of Budrus. Speaking for myself, I would like to know more about it before forming any permanent conclusions.
    And lastly, throughout the film it was constantly emphasized how non-violent the protests were. Yet, I got the opposite impression by watching the film. The protests were very threatening and I saw nothing but violence. The crowds of Palestinians took on a mob mentality, and non-violence had no part of it. They began with non-violence, but as time went by, they became more and more threatening. Continually touting their non-violence is and was untrue, pure propaganda. I can appreciate this film for what it was, the perspective of the Palistinians of Budrus. But the film failed to answer many critical questions.


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