NEW YORK (Reuters) - Sometimes, a little peace goes a long way. Indians, led by Mohandas Gandhi, found out. African American followers of Martin Luther King, Jr. learned too.
So did a village of Palestinians and their Israeli counterparts from a reluctant hero, family man and his 15-year-old daughter. Their little-known story is documented in a new film “Budrus,” whose makers hope will spread a message that peace can bring change, even in a war-torn land.
As Palestinians and Israelis attempt to restart peace talks, “Budrus,” which opened in New York over the weekend and spreads around the United States in coming weeks, takes on greater meaning.
The documentary film shows the father and daughter duo leading a throng of Palestinian villagers, notably joined by some Israeli supporters, in a nonviolent crusade to protect their agricultural village, Budrus, from a barrier being built to separate the two ethnic groups inside the West Bank.
Budrus is 31-kilometers from Ramalla in the northern West Bank, and the film shows villagers peacefully protesting Israeli bulldozers even as the machines uproot olive trees -- and their Palestinian culture -- in 2003, when they campaigned for 10 straight months to reroute the barrier.
“It’s a small story, it’s a small village,” said director Julia Bacha. “But there are many lessons to be learned from what happened there and many of the things that they did in this community can be applied broadly.”
To retell the story in a compelling fashion, Bacha gathered footage taken by protesters and villagers after the events and coupled it with fresh interviews of major players from both the village and the Israeli army.
“We wanted to put the faces of both sides of that struggle in the consciousness of people,” she said. “Budrus felt like a microcosm to look at ‘what are the dynamics that take place when this community decides to use nonviolent strategies to resist’,” she said.
Interviews include a local Hamas leader, village protesters, Israeli activists, the female Israeli border police squadron commander and an Israeli army captain.
Anchoring the protest, and the film, is Budrus’ mayor, family man and former Fatah activist Ayed Morrar, who once spent years in Israeli prisons, and his then 15-year-old daughter, Iltezam. At one stage, she risked her life by stepping into the path of a bulldozer.
But Bacha called Morrar a “humble man” and said it took her several months to persuade him to be in the documentary.
At the beginning of the film he says with pained and hopeful eyes, “We want to raise our kids in peace and hope. We are using a strategy of popular resistance and nonviolence.”
The film has attracted critical acclaim, with The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof calling it “this year’s must-see documentary” and “a riveting window into what might be possible if Palestinians adopted civil disobedience on a huge scale”. The Guardian called the movie an “eye-opener.”
Bacha said one of the most inspiring parts in discovering the story -- and an emotional highpoint in the film -- was how the people of Budrus spread their successful protest strategy to other villages and built trust with Israelis.
“This community didn’t just preserve what they have, they extended it,” she said before commenting on some Israelis joining in on the efforts, “If people struggle together they start believing they share a common cause and they see that ‘You are willing take risks for me, I am willing to take risks for you.'”
Morrar says softly by the end of the film, “I used to tell them, this is not our destiny. We have a choice. We can decide to resist.”
editing by Bob Tourtellotte