Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Don't Shoot and Don't Weep"


I saw the excellent documentary Budrus this afternoon. Today's was the last showing in Chicago, and I'm glad I made it. Besides thoroughly enjoying this well-made work, I also left the movie theater inspired. Budrus is about a West Bank village that successfully confronted the Israeli army. The Palestinian villagers successfully organized to save their olive groves and cemetery from being destroyed by the Israeli security wall.

This story is so wonderful not only because it has a happy ending but because is rings true.  As one of the activists in the movie says, "The powerful never make concessions without a struggle." I saw other universal lessons including the importance of non-violent, steadfast, unified resistance. These are just as relevant to the campaign for worker justice in Chicago's hotels as they are for Palestinian farmers on the West Bank. Budrus reads like a textbook for community organizing.

As a story of building a unified campaign, Budrus pays attention to alliances between different constituencies: men and women; parents and children and teens; Palestinian villagers and Israeli activists. One of the relationships the documentary illustrates is that of Israeli soldiers and Israeli activists. An Israeli activist, seeking to make a human connection with the armed, Israeli soldiers, calls out to the soldiers through a megaphone, "We are peers. I am 22 and you are my age!"

If activism is your pleasure, Israel is a paradise. When I lived in Israel, what made for an enjoyable demonstration was a good slogan: it has to rhyme and pack a punch. The Israeli activists in Budrus came up with a great one. A group of young Israeli activists taunt the Israeli soldiers with the call: "lo yoreem v'lo bocheem!" "Don't shoot and don't weep." This call mocks the classic Israeli military ethic: "We shoot and then we will weep." In other words, Israeli soldiers are tough enough to go into battle and do what needs to be done, yet sensitive enough to process their emotions back home and let the tears run. This is reflected in mainstream Israeli culture. The mourning soldier is a touchstone of Israeli music and literature. Israeli popular music abounds with elegaic songs that articulate rituals of grief, among soldiers and with civilians.

The early Jewish pioneers who laid the foundations for modern Israel set out to re-create the Jewish man. These young men and women - peers in age of the soldiers and activists of Budrus - turned their teenage rejection of their parents' lives into an ideological movement. Their mission - as reflected in contemporary writings - was to take the weedy, terrified, bookish shtetl Jews and produce farmer-warriors. One hundred years later,  the Israeli military male has developed as a hybrid: the Israeli sabra combined with the traditional Jew: The Israeli is the warrior, then, after the battle is over, the "Jew" emerges, and talks, and weeps. Israelis are proud of this archetype.

What I find lacking in this model is the ability to go beyond emoting and to question the premise for going into battle. There is no format in mainstream Israeli culture for asking fundamental questions. Like the documentary's woman-warrior Yasmin, this ideal type never questions the morality of her actions. (This pattern is the subject of the 2008, Israeli movie Waltz with Bashir about the first Lebanon War.)

Israeli military Border Police enforcing illegal seizure of Palestinian lands to build the Israeli '"Separation Wall"
The formula of "We shoot, then we weep" has a particular resonance in Hebrew. I hear in it a paraphrase of the formula with which the Children of Israel accepted the authority of the Torah. Famously (to those who had a traditional, Jewish upbringing) the first generation of Israelites entered into covenant with God with the formula: "na'aseh v'nishma". "We will do it, and then we will study (lit. hear) it." The Talmud (BT Shabbat 88a) lauds the Israelites' acceptance of the commandments before knowing the scope of that commitment. This unquestioning acceptance of authority in matters of war is a perversion of the classical, rabbinic understanding of accepting the authority of God.

The Israeli activists' call on the Israeli military to abandon the cycle of violence-then-therapy. The Israeli activists in Budrus issue an urgent call to return to traditional, Jewish values of non-aggression. That message is delivered in simple, Israeli Hebrew: lo yoreem, v'lo bocheem!
Translation: If you won't shoot at us now, you won't have to cry about it later.


  1. The problem with Budrus is that that it paints too rosy a picture. There are so many locations on the West Bank where all the community organizing, solidarity activism and factional rapprochement in the world have not stopped the wall. The Israeli military and secret services have ruthlessly broken the back of these attempts at opposition.

  2. Cantor Michael DavisDecember 09, 2010

    Point, well taken. Nil'in, Bil'in and the unrecognized Bedouin townships within Israel are evidence of that.
    My focus in this posting was on the internal Jewish-Israeli debate. If progressive Jews are going to get past backing the settler ideology then we will need to take a close look at how we got here and what it looks like on the ground. The story of Budrus is hopeful and it shows the ideal story. It doesn't let us off the hook. On the contrary.

  3. Susan JacksonDecember 09, 2010

    I loved this movie. What an inspiration.
    Everybody interested in peace in Israel/Palestine should see it !!!

  4. I think it's an over-simplification to cast traditional Jews as "weedy, terrified and bookish" in contrast to the Israeli "warrior-farmer".
    Many Jews were farmers in Europe(Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof was the rule, not the exception). Tens of thousands of Jews fought in WWI, and the examples go on and on.
    And the parents of the first generation of Israelis were no cowards either. They often led heroic lives in the face of unimaginable physical hardship, bordering on starvation. No to mention, anti-semitic, physical violence.
    Weren't these kids doing what every generation of young people do, i.e. rebelling against their parents? Every so often, that passing rebellion turns into a political movement and something lasting is born.
    Israel strikes me as a place of permanent rebellion against those that love them: against the British, against the Americans, against their own best interests.
    When will Israel grow up a bit, be nice to their neighbors, learn to share with their housemates, say thank you nicely to their Uncle Sam?