The Lessons of Budrus — Seven Years Later
Dr. Alon Ben-Meir
NYU Professor of International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies
I recently spoke at the New York United Nations Association following a screening of the documentary BUDRUS, named after a Palestinian village in the West Bank (WB). Although I carefully followed the events in that small village as they occurred in 2003-2004, when I previewed the documentary, I realized how little has changed since that time in Israeli-Palestinian relations. A village of 1,500 residents was determined to use peaceful protests to prevent the Israeli Defense Department from building a security fence that would separate the village from the rest of the WB.
Events that could have had tragic consequences ended in the villager's triumphant peaceful resistance that accommodated Israel's security requirements while restoring the villagers' way of life with dignity. Now, what lessons have Israelis and Palestinians learned from this compelling story of nonviolent resistance against occupation?
First, only peaceful resistance can improve the dynamic on the ground. This was proven over the past nearly three years when the Palestinian Authority in the WB determined that only by renouncing violence as a mean to achieve their national objective of statehood will the inevitability of peaceful coexistence finally set in.
The contrast between the WB and Gaza is extraordinarily stark. Whereas the WB has developed state infrastructure, with social and political institutions, shopping centers, and movie theaters while internal security maintains law and order with full cooperation with Israel, much of Gaza remains a waste land.
This is not because of the Israeli blockade, but primarily because Hamas refuses to renounce violence and still calls for Israel's destruction. This position forces Hamas to focus on security by acquiring offensive weapons against Israel instead of providing the people with economic opportunities and the building of the foundation of state in cooperation with its counterpart in the West Bank.
The second lesson from the Budrus experience is that Israel's legitimate security concerns can be mitigated by minor border adjustment through land swapping without displacing a single Palestinians and without uprooting hundreds of olive trees, which is one of the main sources of the villager's livelihood.
Contrary to Netanyahu's contention that the 1967 borders are not defensible, in the age of missiles and rockets one might ask what borders are indeed defensible? Is the Gaza's border defensible? Will acquiring swaths of land by Israel in Gaza makes any difference from security perspectives?
The truth is that only peace that meets the mutual requirements of both sides makes nearly any border peaceful and even a source of cooperation, trade and a host of other exchanges. Budrus has demonstrated that Israel remains as secure by building the fence along the 1967 line without infringement on Palestinian territory. Under conditions of sustainable peace the fence could eventually be removed altogether and allow for free movement of people and goods in both directions.
The Budrus story further suggests that extremism will serve neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian cause. Extremists on both sides can disrupt and delay the peace process, but will never be able to prevent peace from being realized because a majority on both sides yearns for peace. This was further emphasized by the fact, Hamas supporter, a father of seven children and a teacher who initially was skeptical about "peaceful" resistance. But once he realized that many Israelis were also against the occupation and came out in groves in support of the Palestinians in Budrus by joining them hand in hand, he too came to the conclusion that there is reason to believe that the conflict can be resolved without bloodshed.
Budrus highlights an important and often overlooked element in the process of peaceful resistance, namely the role of women. Unlike military and political processes which often exclude women and families, these parties can participate and support nonviolence resistance. Women were at the forefront of the protests in Budrus, which empowered them to take a stake in protecting their village. By protesting alongside men, both Israeli and Palestinian, the women of Budrus showed that this conflict transcends cultural boundaries to unify and bolster their community and home.
The story of BUDRUS also uncovered mutual misperception of Israelis and Palestinians while revealing the basic humanity and the sheer desire to live in peace. The Palestinians realized that not all Israelis are gun wielding, ready to kill any Palestinian, as they have been portrayed by Palestinian extremists and the media.
In turn, the Israelis who joined the Palestinians' protest against the fence realized that these villagers simply want to live a peaceful life. They harbor no ill feelings toward the Israelis and accept Israel as a neighbor with whom they want to cooperate as long as Israel does not infringe on their autonomy.
The inescapable conclusion of this poignant story is that Israeli-Palestinian coexistence is not one of many choices, but the only choice. Israelis and Palestinians must now choose between continuing strife, bloodshed and poison one generation after another, or live in peace and prosperity together.
Unilateral action by either side will go nowhere. Neither continued occupation nor the quest to attain UN recognition of a Palestinian state will serve either side national interest. The solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rests on good-faith negotiations provided that both sides accept what the villagers of Budrus and the Israelis who came to support them have accepted all along: Live and let live.