Ayed Morrar, the moral giant of Budrus

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All 1500 residents are heroes in the documentary film Budrus, named for their West Bank Palestinian village, as are the international and Israeli solidarity activists who joined their nonviolent protests against the military occupation back in 2003-04. But one person stands out: Ayed Morrar, a thoughtful, quiet man who leads with calm courage and by example.

Ayed, now in his late 40s, has been in the Palestinian freedom struggle his entire life; he spent 6 years in Israeli prisons and another 3 on the run. He and his 4 brothers have not been able to all get together for years; at least one of them is always jailed or in hiding. His courageous and outspoken teenage daughter Iltezam, a future doctor, is also a convincing presence in the film.

Budrus is located near the “border” with Israel, and the so-called “security wall” was planned to amputate the village from some of its lands and uproot its ancient olive groves. (The film’s only real weakness is that it does not explain that so much of the separation wall is on Palestinian territory as part of further land-grabbing, not for “security;” you see Israeli colonies/settlements in the distance, but they are never explained.)

The filmmaker Julia Bacha shows us the courage of the villagers as they nonviolently confront heavily armed Israeli border police and yellow Caterpillar bulldozers – a perverse kind of product placement the American company’s publicity department is surely regretting. At first, the protesters are only men, but then Ayed’s daughter insists that women should also be allowed to join in. Then likeable internationalists and sympathetic Israelis also show up to help. In one memorable scene, a little boy, no more than 4 or 5 years old, is wearing a tee-shirt that reads BDS and smiling.

The film makes absolutely clear that without the outsiders, and the accompanying press coverage, the Israeli military would have been even more violent. In the end, the Israelis crack down anyway, using live ammunition against Palestinian teenagers who are throwing stones despite Ayed’s pleading.

The Israelis have their say in the film, including a woman border policeman and an army spokesman who has an accent that could be from Cleveland or Milwaukee, but they are deaf to their own arrogance and their testimony only strengthens the Palestinian case. After 10 months of protest, Israel does change the route of the security wall, sparing most of Budrus’s olive groves.

The film is showing in New York City until October 28, and should hopefully continue into wide circulation.

P.S.  Here’s a link to other showings of Budrus around the world.

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