On March 30, the Program on Negotiation and the Harvard Middle East Initiative hosted a screening of the documentary Budrus. The screening was also supported by the Progressive Jewish Alliance, The Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee, J Street of Harvard and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism.
The film was followed by a question and answer session with Ronit Avni, the film’s producer; Marshall Ganz, Public Policy Lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School; and Hilary Rantisi, Director of the Middle East Initiative.
The film was made by Just Vision, a non-profit that documents and creates media about Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders involved in nonviolence and peace building.
The film documents the efforts of Ayed Morrar to help save his village, Budrus, from the encroachment of the Security Barrier being built by Israel. His efforts helped unite members of Hamas, Fatah, and Israeli allies in nonviolent action. The planned route of the wall would have cut off Budrus and other occupied villages from the rest of the West Bank, demolished the village cemetery and 3,000 of the village’s olive trees (called the “lifeblood” of the Palestinian people), and come close to the village’s elementary school.
Determined not to stand by and do nothing, Ayed organizes peaceful demonstrations, because “violence is what Israelis expect from Palestinians.” For ten months, both women and men from Budrus led Israeli and international allies in unarmed struggle in the face of escalating violence by the Israeli Defense Forces. They succeeded in getting the route of the Separation Barrier moved, sparing most of their land, and showing that, in the words of Ayed’s daughter Iltezam, “Even when you are small and have nothing, you can do all this.”
Ronit Avni spoke about the origins of the movie. When they held screenings of Just Vision’s first movie, Encounter Point, audiences kept asking “where is the Palestinian Gandhi?” She knew that there was a history of nonviolent organizing for the Palestinian cause that is largely unknown, in particular during the First Intifada (1987-1993). In making Budrus, she wanted to capture a present day example of one village that continues to practice nonviolence. Avni also wanted to counter the glut of information that makes the Middle East conflict seem like “an endless cycle of retribution and violence… especially with the most recent uprisings in the Middle East, we want to celebrate even small successes – a moment of reflection, appreciation and learning.” She also reminded audiences that the modest gains portrayed in Budrus are not representative, and that ongoing support for other villages facing similar challenges is essential.
Hilary Rantisi reminded the audience that though it is uplifting to see the success of one village, land is being expropriated every day by Israeli settlements, and people need to keep demonstrating and speaking out in order to continue the movement.
Marshall Ganz compared the story of grassroots power told in this film to the American Civil Rights movement. Both were characterized by the slow, steady relational work of leaders like Ayed and “the bravery of ordinary people whose resourcefulness began with great hope and courage”. In particular, in the film, after a successful day of protests, he notes that a young Palestinian boy remarks with pride, “Look what we did.” Marshall Ganz described moments like this one as a time when the world becomes a place of possibility to individuals involved in social movements. “Nonviolent struggles turn barriers into fulcrums. In this case the separation wall is being used, police dogs in Alabama were used as a fulcrum for motivating outside support.”