Israel and Palestine Transforming the Rhetoric

By Kobi Skolnick

This summer serious and even fatal events took place surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but even more significant ones are upon us now. These of course include the renewal of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and the growing nonviolent movement on the ground. Just Vision’s film, Budrus, which is being released in the US and the UK, documents a part of this movement.

Whereas political negotiations represent the current leaders in power, the film represents the struggle of the people on the ground. Leaders on both sides have failed their people again and again. This is the right time for them to listen to those who are raising the option of pragmatic peace based on human interactions. As the official peace talks take place under the eye of the mainstream media, people in the US and the UK who view this film will see the growing nonviolent movement, a powerful vision of the real change taking place among peace leaders on the ground.

Budrus is an award-winning documentary film about a Palestinian community organizer, Ayed Morrar, who brings together local Fatah and Hamas members with Israeli supporters in an unarmed movement in order to save his village of Budrus from destruction by Israel’s separation barrier.

On April 25th of this year I had the pleasure of spending a day with Ayed Morrar and his daughter Iltezam before the premiere of the film at the Tribeca Film Festival. While we were walking near Battery Park that rainy afternoon, we passed the Museum of Jewish Heritage in NYC, a living memorial to the Holocaust. Ayed asked, “Can we go in? Is it open now?” I said, “Yes, if you wish.”

We found ourselves walking through the horrors of the Holocaust and the images of the dead. My mind traveled back to a time when I was full of hatred toward people like Ayed. At that time, for me, he would not have had a human face but would have seemed to be a bloodthirsty killer.

I thought of my dear friends who had died in this conflict. I wanted to tell them that they had not died in vain, that there are people who have found a way to cleanse themselves of hatred and replace it with a strong sense of shared humanity. Some are still fearful and even horrified by recent experiences of violence, but they manage to find a place within themselves where they are able to feel empathy. They are my heroes.

These thoughtful men and women have visions that they, their children, and others can enjoy freedom, dignity, and the protection of basic rights in the face of those who would abuse them. These people envision a world where all, regardless of race, gender, class, religion, nationality, and other differences, are treated equally – without prejudice or persecution. Many of these principles and ideals were expressed in the declaration, which established the State of Israel but have not been fully realized. This powerful vision of Ayed goes beyond one’s actual experience of what is and imagines what might be and what ought to be.

He is not alone.  Every Friday in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem and in other nearby communities, Israelis and Palestinians are coming together to say ‘no more’ to discrimination and abuses. One religious Israeli man told a journalist:  “I am here. I am fighting against the expulsion of people who will become refugees for a second time.” Protests are also increasing in villages around the West Bank. Even within the settler movement, there is a new group called Eretz Shalom. It understands that dialogue is necessary. And, although this group’s perspective is primarily religious, the Palestinian Authority regards this fledgling movement as a step towards a potential solution.

Advocates of peace have the power to inspire and hold out hope with their visions. For those who oppose peace, however, these same visions may seem terrifying. History teaches us that such movements have always generated opposition and resistance. It has also shown us that the essential ingredient in the struggle for peace and equality has been and always will be individuals like Ayed who work for a peaceful world every day. They are part of a larger struggle that began long ago.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, few people could imagine that kings and emperors might not be divine and endowed with limitless powers. In the 19th century, people began to question whether slavery was truly part of the natural order. The 20th and 21st centuries have faced issues such as the inequality of women, racial discrimination, apartheid, and the rights of indigenous peoples.

It is time now for Israelis and Palestinians to recognize each other as full and equal human beings and to bring about a future where biases and injustices are exposed and eliminated. The suffering of both peoples must be acknowledged. This generation must speak out forcefully against discrimination and intolerance. With a careful and strategic design for building peace, not only through high level talks the destructive expressions of the conflict can be transformed into constructive growth and development for both peoples. This vision of a peaceful Israel and Palestine can affect and transform future generations. The community described in the film Budrus is an example of that vision, and needs and deserves support from all of us.

US Theatrical Release: 
Oct 8th – Quad Theatre in NY

Oct 22nd – Music Hall in LA

Oct 29 – West End Cinema in DC

© Marc Gopin