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 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.