Budrus: a village to inspire hope?

Posted on 05 October 2010

I watched Budrus at the weekend. It’s a film about the villagers of Budrus and how they responded to the continued theft of their land by Israel. Led by the mayor, Ayed Morrar, the villagers unite to challenge the Israeli military and border police at regular demonstrations where they try to protect their land and prevent the construction of the illegal barrier which separates Palestinians from their land and each other. It has won a number of prestigious awards and positive reviews around the world.

I enjoyed the film for many reasons. Morrar is an inspirational man who is far more politically astute than anyone in the Palestinian Authority (although admittedly that’s really not difficult). His young daughter, Iltezam, who suddenly finds herself at the forefront of the movement, encourages girls and women from the village to join the protests to the point where their energy and determination seems to take over everything and everyone. Watching the young women chase after and grab soldiers who are dragging off an Israeli protester to try and release him is a wonderfully exhilarating sight.

There are, of course, scenes that are particularly poignant. An old woman talks about the deep love she has for her olive trees, as if they were her children. This is common in Palestine; their attachment and connection to the land is much more tangible and real than those who use a two thousand year old story of dubious veracity to justify their oppression of an entire people. The trees being ripped out of the land is especially sad.

It’s also good to see a film about Palestinians where they are the central characters and their voice is at the forefront. Often, the Palestinian narrative is hung on the back of an international which might give the film more widespread appeal, but it diminshes the real story of dispossesion and injustice Palestinians have suffered for so many decades.

Perhaps the film is being positioned to appeal to an audience that may have only recently discovered the injustices suffered by the Palestinians and the illegal methods employed by Israel to perpetuate these crimes, and it speaks to those who do not believe violence should be used in any form. It shows that there are Israelis willing to stand with Palestinians, and suffer the consequences of those actions. But the film also misses, or misrepresents, some important aspects, and that is the responsibility of the film maker and the production team.

The film does not make it clear that the International Court of Justice ruled the wall illegal. It’s barely mentioned but it’s a vital part of the story of the wall and the fight Palestinians have on their hands. It also positions the use of non violence as a strategy of resistance as a new phenomenon. But non violence has been used for decades, from individual acts, such as students and workers circumnavigating checkpoints to access schools and work, to communities, like Beit Sahour, organising popular protests at considerable personal cost in some cases. Even during the early years of the second Intifada, when armed resistance was at its height, non violent direct action demonstrations were also common place. Of course, there was plenty of violence, as always, from the Israeli forces.

The end of the film is a celebration of the villagers’ victory. But what sort of victory is it really? The wall exists, their land has still been taken, just less than Israel had originally intended. While a film of 80 minutes cannot cover all the aspects of a story, there are some important elements that should have been more clearly explained or highlighted.

Ayed, Iltezam and everyone else in the film fully deserve the awards and the respect for what they’ve achieved. After all, they didn’t make the film, they are the subjects. Their commitment and energy should inspire people. But if those who watch the film leave thinking that there is some hope in Palestine for a better future, then the film has failed at one level to show the reality of life in Palestine.

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