Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Freedom always slightly more than a stone's throw away

This is a film that is about a community’s struggle to avert the “Security Fence” that cuts through the West Bank and into Palestine lands. A village named Budrus undertook the kind of resistance most common in the first intifada, mostly nonviolent with some episodic stone-throwing. In the end, the methods worked, especially after the solidarity shown by internationals and Israeli peace activists. The fenceline was moved to miss the village and though they lost many olive trees, it could have been much worse.
Palestinian protests have a singular style, usually involving a rhythmic call-and-response chanting, the crowd and the bullhorn. “Boop-bada-boop-bada-boop-boop-boop,” goes the rhythmic chant from the bullhorn. The crowd answers back with the same line. It might be “Budrus is the great mother of heroes!” or “You can shoot but we won’t murder!” Of course, it sounds strident and defiant to most IDF soldiers and to most of the non-Arabic world who might see it on the media in Israel and around the world, since far more Palestinians speak Hebrew than IDF soldiers understand Arabic. Angry appearing chanters led by a bullhorn might give courage and some measure of unity to participants, but it does little to win sympathy from Israelis who see it on the media, not to mention Israeli Defense Force troops right in front of them. The Palestinians give off an image nothing like the images from the Civil Rights movement, the United Farmworkers in the days of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez, or the Filipinos and Filipinas who interposed between two great army factions of the Philippines in February 1986. They are responding to great injustice and no one can blame them, yet that spirit is still anything but invitational. The tone and stones are liabilities, yet the unending willingness to resist is a great asset.
Ayed Morrar is the Budrus village leader who works hard to transform the resistance landscape. He's a man with children he's barely known, as he's been so consumed with being a Palestinian fighter, in and out of prison, and he draws together the local members of opposing forces of Hamas and Fatah first. He has to handle the visiting Hamas leadership gingerly, noting that they are in the offices and not the field, yet they treat him and his campaign as though they are unimportant while demanding all the respect for themselves. He is clearly weary of finessing them. His vision for victory is playing way past them, way past the destructive civil war between Fatah and Hamas, way past the stone-throwing youth, and yet he must deal with all of that cultural and political baggage as he throws his shoulder to the wheel anew every day.
Ayed came to the screening of the film at Tufts and his authenticity and humility are endearing and engaging.
His style--the nonviolent bulldog--prevails, especially when his 15-year-old daughter, Iltezam, decides she is going to join the resistance on the front lines. She brings in the women, Ayed relents, and they courageously move into areas known for their lethality. When Iltezam leaps alone into a hole in front of a bulldozer that is uprooting olive trees, our hearts leap into our throats, afraid for her life. We all know what happened to Rachel Corrie, an American whose life was far more high profile than a poor Palestinian girl. Her courage, her nonviolent intuition and discipline, her leadership and modeling of how to be effective and inclusive, sits at the center of this story for some of us.
From the film's website: "The movie is directed by award-winning filmmaker Julia Bacha (co-writer and editor of Control Room and co-director Encounter Point), and produced by Bacha, Palestinian journalist Rula Salameh, and filmmaker and human rights advocate Ronit Avni (formerly of WITNESS, Director of Encounter Point)."
Bacha, a Brazilian who seems to be a fearless filmer, apparently did much of the actual filming, at least that is what I took from her Skyped-in participation in the discussion following the screening. The film is making a difference and will, it it hoped, continue to educate the world about the issues, and about Palestinian attempts at nonviolence. Perhaps the responses of the world will help Ayed Morrar as he struggles to help his country learn the strength of nonviolence and the relative weakness of the counterproductive violence--however justified--that in fact gave the Israeli government the excuse to seize more Palestinian land in the first place, something Bacha shows poignantly with scenes from suicide bombings of buses in Israel that gave the rationale to the IDF spokesperson's argument as she interviewed him about the security fence.
Hamas and Fatah have their styles of resistance, and thus Palestinians lose, little by little, every year. They should emulate Budrus. Fimmakers around the world should emulate Bacha.

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