Movie review: 'Budrus'

Budrus is a tiny village where something potentially very big happened, the setting for a hopeful story in an area of the world that has produced hardly any hope at all in recent years.

As introduced in the surprisingly heartening documentary of the same name, Budrus is a small agricultural settlement in the West Bank, definitely not the kind of place you'd expect a popular movement encouraging nonviolent resistance to take root and grow. But that, as this Julia Bacha-directed film shows, is what took place.

With most of its estimated 1,500 inhabitants members of families that have lived in the area for generations, Budrus gets both its income and its sense of self from its venerable olive orchards. As landowner Hosnie Youssef puts it, "uprooting trees is like death. What will we do without our land? How will we live?"

All this became an issue in 2003, when the Israeli government decided to build a separation barrier in the West Bank with the understandable aim of protecting its citizens from terrorists.

For Budrus, the barrier would separate the town from 300 acres of its farmland and about 3,000 olive trees, many of which would be bulldozed out of existence. "It's as if we were strangers in our own land," the ancient Youssef dramatically exclaims. "Death would be a relief."

Ayed Morrar, a Budrus resident and a quiet but determined Palestinian political activist, had the idea of using nonviolent resistance to try to stop the barrier. He didn't suggest this, he is quick to point out, because of nobility of spirit. He did it because he believed those tactics were the most likely to be effective.

Bacha, who co-wrote and edited the excellent "Control Room," was not present when these events took place, but she has done a professional job of getting her film up to speed. She did empathetic interviewing with many of the people involved, including Israelis such as border police officer Yasmine Levy, who was in Budrus from the beginning of the situation. Bacha also collected footage from more than a dozen individuals who were on the scene at key moments.

What is clear in "Budrus" is that the movement's initial success stemmed from the remarkable personality of organizer Morrar. One of five activist brothers and himself imprisoned for six years by the Israelis earlier in his life, the soft-spoken Morrar is a person with a gift for pragmatic cooperation that is far from business as usual in his part of the world.

Though a staunch Fatah party member, Morrar's willingness to work with anybody who could help led to cooperation with members of the rival Hamas movement. And when Morrar's 15-year-old daughter, Iltezam, asked why women were not allowed in the demonstrations, he agreed to include them, to potent effect.

Even more controversial was Morrar's decision to reach out to Israeli peace activists, who for their part were eager to be able to participate in something concrete, like defending the olive groves as opposed to simply attending mass demonstrations.

In fact, some of the most moving moments in "Budrus" are when Iltezam and Hamas leader Ahmed Awwad talk about how surprised and heartened they were to meet for the first time in their lives flesh-and-blood Israelis who were sympathetic to their position. "They don't," Iltezam says in genuine wonder, "really all hate us."

Though how all this worked out is a matter of record, it's probably best discovered by watching the film. It can be said, as the closing credits illustrate, that what happened in Budrus encouraged numerous towns in the West Bank to give nonviolence a try.

What's most gratifying about "Budrus" is that the film enables us to feel some of the same emotions the participants experienced. "Harmony" is not a word heard very often in the West Bank, but that is the best way to describe the feeling of watching people working for a just and peaceful solution. As one participant says, "Everyone is looking for freedom and security," and this film illustrates a way toward that goal.

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