In Julia Bacha’s documentary Budrus, a proposed separation barrier built by Israel threatened to confiscate land from Palestinian villagers. The villagers, joined by left-wing Israeli activists, staged non-violent protests to stop construction work. The Israeli army tried everything, from shooting at the demonstrators to putting the village under curfew. But it wasn’t enough. After almost a year of protests, Israel adapted its plans for the barrier and the villagers got their land back.
Why did you want to tell people this story?
There’s an opportunity here to talk about divides that are bridgeable if you recognise that there are people on the other side – although they might be a minority – who want [the same thing], who think that it is morally wrong and who are suffering as well from their government. In the film, [left-wing Israelis] are being arrested. What you don’t see is that these people can’t get jobs, they’re outcasts in their society. The price they are paying is huge. But they don’t get any media attention for the incredible amount of work that they do to build peace.
How have audiences reacted to this idea of Palestinians and Israelis working together?
It’s been overwhelmingly, incredibly positive, and I think that’s because of Ayed [Morrar, village resident and leader of the non-violent resistance]. The Israeli intelligence services have shot him twice, he was in prison five times, he was a leader in the first intifada. This man has credibility in terms of standing by the Palestinian cause and Palestinian freedom. He’s been dedicating his entire life [to it]. He didn’t spend time with his family: he barely knew his kids. When they went to visit him in prison, they didn’t recognise him because they didn’t know [him]. Many of us are idealistic and we want to change the world, but there are limits to the price we’re willing to pay. The price that he has paid is immense. He’s so humble, he has no ego. This is not about him. And I think people can sense that.
The world premiere of Budrus was also DIFF’s Cultural Bridge Gala screening. How was it?
It was awesome. There was this incredible, magical moment before the film even ended: there’s a map that shows that [the villagers] won after 55 demonstrations, and people burst into applause. When it happened I was like, ‘that’s amazing’. People were really with them, you know? Really feeling it.
How much can a film like this help to change the situation?
[Film] gives you the ability to talk with a huge audience. There is so little understanding of what resistance [means] in the Palestinian territories today. There’s a lot of hatred towards Israel in general and vague talk about militancy, the violent resistance of Palestinians. So I think for [the villagers] it’s an opportunity to educate about what the people who are under occupation are thinking right now, in terms of the direction in which they want to go. And obviously they are one example, but they don’t get a lot of media [coverage], so this is a huge opportunity for exposure.
So what’s next for you?
The coming year will be focused on releasing the film and building alliances in the Arab world and in the US to try to change policy. This is ultimately what we’re trying to do. And we’re going to keep on telling stories about Israelis and Palestinians who are trying to end the conflict, and give dignity to both societies. The work starts when the lights go up in the theatre.
Bacha works for the Just Vision organisation, supporting non-violent resistance in Palestine. Get updates at www.justvision.org