By Jesse Bacon
I recently had the good fortune to attend a packed Monday night NYC screening sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace and the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. One issue raised by the extremely well-informed director was how similar protests in other villages have had difficulty duplicating Budrus’s success. A Budrus protest participant told me that even Budrus itself could see its victory threatened as Israel completes the building of the Wall. So it is inspiring to me that Ayed Morrar, the Budrus leader, has continued to struggle on behalf of other less fortunate villages in the West Bank. Here he writes in Huffington Post (apparently more “mainstream” outlets passed on it) in support of Abdallah Abu Rahmah, his counterpart organizer in Bi’lin.
Budrus depicts our ten month campaign of protest marches in 2003-2004, which included participation by men, women and children, and by representatives from all Palestinian political factions, along with Israeli and international activists, to resist the construction of Israel’s Separation Barrier on our lands. Young women, led by my 15-year-old daughter Iltezam, ran past armed Israeli soldiers and jumped In front of the bulldozers that were uprooting our ancient olive trees. The soldiers regularly met us with clubs, rubber-coated bullets, curfews, arrests and even live ammunition. But we won in the end. The Israeli military rerouted the barrier in Budrus, allowing us access to almost all of our land.
The film ends with Palestinian and Israeli activists heading to the neighboring village of Ni’ilin where the struggle to save Palestinian land continues today. But following Budrus’s success and faced by a growing numbers of civilians protesting the confiscation of their lands, Israel has responded with military might, attempting to quell this new movement. Twenty Palestinians have since been killed during unarmed demonstrations against the construction of the Separation Barrier.
In Ni’ilin, in the dark of night, Israeli soldiers have staged hundreds of military raids and arrests of civilians from the village; hundreds more were injured — forty by live ammunition, and five, including a ten year old, were shot dead. Today, a horrid 25 foot concrete wall stands in Ni’ilin, behind which lie 620 acres of village lands taken for the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements.
Through a five-year protest campaign, another nearby village, Bil’in, has become an international symbol of nonviolent resistance to Israeli occupation, with world leaders from Jimmy Carter to Desmond Tutu visiting to show support. On October 11th, Abdallah Abu Rahmah, one of Bil’in’s most prominent protest organizers, was sentenced by an Israeli military court to twelve months in jail. His crime — leading demonstrations in his village that were very similar to those I led in Budrus.
During Abdallah’s trial, Israel’s military prosecution repeatedly demanded that an ‘example’ be made of him to deter others who might organize civil resistance. The EU, Britain, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have all condemned Abdallah’s incarceration, yet he remains in prison.
Palestinians’ wishes are simple — we want what is ours, our land, with true sovereignty. We want freedom, equality and civil rights — what Martin Luther King, Jr. called in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail “our constitutional and God-given rights.”
But Israel is sending a clear message — even unarmed resistance by ordinary civilians demanding basic rights will be crushed. It is little known that the second intifada began not with guns and suicide bombings against civilians, but rather with protest marches to Israeli military checkpoints inside the occupied West Bank, and with civil disobedience in the tradition of the US civil rights movement. Israel responded by firing over 1.3 million live bullets in one month into crowds of protesters. When ordinary people could no longer afford to risk protesting, small groups turned, in anger and despair, to armed resistance.
Budrus’s struggle showed that civil resistance can bring down walls, both literal and those of the heart, and set an example for a bright future for Israelis and Palestinians in this biblical land. Today Palestinian and Israeli protesters are together confronting Israel’s military occupation in other villages. But this hopeful possibility is now threatened again by Israeli bullets and arrests.
For this future to materialize, those who are outraged by the violence deployed against protesters must demand an end to the injustice. If Americans want to see the example of Budrus continue to spread, individuals, civil society groups and the US government must act to pressure Israel to end its brutal crackdown on civilian protesters.