by Alexandra Marie Daniels
While most of the news out of the Middle East is of violence, terrorism, security and protection at all costs, and when conversations rarely move beyond who is right and who is wrong, it is difficult to find hope in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Yet according to Director Julia Bacha, her new film Budrus “shows that there is a way to move beyond, ‘Is this pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian?’”
This past Wednesday in Los Angeles, California, I had the opportunity to sit down with Bacha. Among her credits, Bacha previously wrote and co-directed Encounter Point in 2006 and co-wrote and edited the acclaimed Control Room in 2004. She is the senior producer and media director at Just Vision, an Israeli, Palestinian, and North American organization that emerged in response to the lack of media coverage of Palestinians and Israelis working together to end the conflict. I found the director positive, but not rosy, and dedicated to her work.
In 2003 Ayed Morrar and his 15-year-old daughter Iltezam organize their West Bank community in non-violent protest. They successfully halt Israel’s attempts to build a separation barrier that would encircle and confiscate 40 percent of their land, cutting the village off from their sacred olive groves - the town’s main source of income for generations. The achievement of this tiny village of 1,500 inhabitants has become a model for peaceful opposition throughout the West Bank.
In the film, three key elements for a successful non-violent movement emerge. Ayed Morrar unites local Palestinian men from across the divided political factions Hamas and Fatah. He explains, “We must empty our mind of traditional thinking,” and makes it clear that it is in the best interest of all Palestinian people to take the path of non-violent opposition to the building of the wall. When his daughter, Iltezam sees only men marching in protest she asks her father why don’t the women march? This young 15-year-old understands that women create the environment successful non-violence needs. Together the father and daughter unite a community and later succeed in inviting hundreds of Israeli activists to join them in protest against the bulldozers and the Israeli border police, creating for the first time for many the opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to stand side by side for peace and freedom.“In Palestinian society,” Bacha tells me, “there is a lot of talk about resisting the occupation and fighting for freedom. [Yet] there is very little actualization of that.” For this reason, in Budrus Morrar sets out to make a new “model of resistance.” According to Bacha, “It’s not like an armed struggle, where those few people, usually men, gain victory and then become the new elite - and in often cases historically become the new oppressors of society. … So it’s not difficult to imagine Palestinian society after freedom, depending on how it’s done, becoming also a dictatorship, which is not going to be good for anybody.” Bacha believes Palestine’s non-violent struggle in the long-term will be good for Palestinians, good for Israel, and good for the Arab world. “It sends a message of actually an Arab society that can be democratic and be pluralistic.”
The participation of women in Budrus was critical to the success of the non-violent resistance. As Ayed Morrar has toured around the West Bank with the film, the first thing he always talks about is “Your women must come out. You need to let your mothers, your sisters, your daughters to participate and they need to play a key role.”
According to Bacha, there are reasons for this. “When the women are present the level of violence decreases. This starts from simple things like the chanting that is done. The men, if women are present, if their sisters are there, if their mothers are there, they are not likely to curse when they chant. The chanting then is more likely to become peaceful in nature than aggressive toward the Israeli border police officers. … With the women there, the chanting actually becomes more inclusive and actually reaching out to the border police and getting them to see the humanity in them.”Bacha eloquently describes for me Morrar’s view of women’s indispensable role in non-violent resistance. “If you want to achieve 100 percent of your goal, you need 100 percent of your population. If 50 percent of your population has been ruled out because you think that women should stay at home, you are likely not going to succeed because you need people. Non-violent resistance requires numbers.”
Ayed Morrar also speaks to communities about partnership across political lines. While the split between Hamas and Fatah has become more acute since the Budrus protests in 2003, Morrar holds strongly to his belief that “you cannot have people thinking that they are being led by you and that they are following you. They are actual partners. Everybody should feel like they are equal in the decision making and the power structure as you are.”
“These are all very democratic ideals,” Bacha tells me. “[Morrar] talks about these things without using the kind of language we use in university, the kind of academic jargon of pluralism and democracy and all of that, but those are the basic values for him in terms of, not only the struggle, but the society that you want to build.”The participation by Israeli civilians is the culmination of this notion of being inclusive in the struggle. “[Morrar] says clearly that without the Israelis participating with us, we are not going to be able to win our freedom. The best partners are across the Green Line and we need to recognize that we have a shared future, and if we struggle together we will be building relationships that will be long lasting and will create the connecting fibers for the two societies to believe that they can be neighbors.”
The presence of Israelis at the protests also lowers the level of violence initiated by Israeli border police. It is shared in the film that Israeli border police have different firing orders if there are Israelis present.
These different levels of partnership seen in the film and understood more in depth after my conversation with Bacha, are not accidental, rather essential components to Ayed Morrar’s vision for the struggle. Efforts in other villages have not experienced the same level of success as Budrus, but Bacha remains hopeful. Here in the United States where the issue is so divisive, where people and films are categorized as pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian, where there is extreme media fatigue over news of violence in the Middle East, Julia Bacha hopes to begin a new dialogue. “There is no such thing as something that is good for the Palestinians that is not good for the Israelis and vice versa. It is only going to work if it is respectful of the dignities of both societies. If it gives freedom to both societies.”
Through the film Budrus and the dedication of Just Vision, this conversation has begun. I heard it at the end of both screenings I attended when I witnessed people leaving the theater asking aloud, “Why didn’t I know about this?” Budrus’s extended run in New York City and the fact that it is playing in theaters in Israel tells me the film will have a far-reaching effect internationally. It is what, for me, documentary filmmaking is all about. The dominant media networks may not have told us this story, but Director Julia Bacha and Just Vision have. Budrus gives me hope.
About the Author:
Alexandra Marie Daniels is a writer, dancer, and filmmaker. Born in California, at age 17 she moved to New York City, where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Sarah Lawrence College. She choreographed and taught with Jacques D'Amboise's National Dance Institute and in 2000 returned to Sarah Lawrence to receive her Master of Fine Arts degree in dance. In 2007, Ms. Daniels attended the Los Angeles Film School and has since been working in film. She has made three films with the director Bernard Rose, including The Kreutzer Sonata (2008) and Mr. Nice (2010) and has worked with the director Martyn Atkins as a script supervisor on concerts such as Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood: Live from Madison Square Garden and The Crossroads Guitar Festival 2010. Currently, she is teaming up with Los Angeles based choreographer Sarah Swenson to create a film version of Swenson's Fimmine and teaches Pilates in Los Angeles.