Graffitti on the border wall at Abu Dis, a Palestinian town next to Jerusalem. (Photo: Ted Swedenburg / Flickr)
A big obstacle to turning Americans on to the idea of action to support the human rights of Palestinians is that the situation appears to many as, a) far away and, b) totally hopeless. Try to talk up the issue, and you are likely to get a look that says, "Why should I pay more attention to something that is far away and totally hopeless? I already have enough opportunities to feel angry, depressed and powerless."
Since this is the case, it's clearly a good thing if an appeal to action in support of Palestinian rights is, a) something that is obviously doable by the person asked and, b) comes along with a plausible story for how taking the suggested action will help make the world a better place.
While it won't solve all the problems of human beings on Earth, I claim that going to see the documentary "Budrus," - about the successful nonviolent resistance of Palestinians and Israelis against the route of the Israeli "separation barrier" and its confiscation of Palestinian land in the West Bank village of Budrus - is an action that is within the reach of most literate Americans. I also have a plausible story for how this action would help make the world a better place.
1. This is a feasible action.
The film, which a Washington Post reviewer called "riveting" and "a sure-fire crowd-pleaser," and former American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) staffer M.J. Rosenberg called a "totally engaging" story of "regular people" who "take their fate into their own hands," is starting to be shown throughout the United States. In the next two months, scheduled screenings include: Washington DC, through November 11; Chicago, starting November 19; Minneapolis, November 26; Palm Beach, December 1; Boston, December 3; Seattle, December 17.
Tens of millions of Americans live within 50 miles of one of the aforementioned cities; if you happen to be one of them, going to see this movie in the next two months is almost certainly a feasible action for you.
Furthermore, if you don't happen to live in or near a city where there is a screening already scheduled, in the next several months there are still two things that you can feasibly do. One requires just the tiniest smidgen of initiative: you could keep an eye out for when the film is scheduled to show near you. The second requires a slightly higher level of engagement: you could ask yourself, is there a movie theater within 50 miles of me that sometimes shows low-budget movies that have won all kinds of awards? If there is, you could contact that theater and ask them to show it.
2. I have a plausible story that seeing this movie will contribute to making the world a better place.
If many Americans see this movie, it could lead to concrete changes in US policy that would lead to real improvement in the ability of Palestinians in the West Bank to free themselves from the occupation by nonviolent action.
Today, Palestinians and Israelis are using nonviolent resistance to try to defeat the occupation in several villages in the West Bank, but these efforts are much less effective than they could be because they receive very little attention in the U.S. In particular, when the Israeli occupation authorities repress these efforts, it generates no comment in the US media or by the US government. This gives the Israeli occupation authorities a freer hand for repression. And when Palestinians and Israelis see that repression of nonviolent protest generates no U.S. response, that weakens the political case for nonviolent action.
Two months ago, an Israeli military court convicted Abdallah Abu Rahmah of "incitement" for organizing nonviolent protests in Bilin similar to those shown in the movie Budrus, as Ayed Morrar and Ronit Avni of the movie have noted. Abu Rahmah was sentenced to a year in prison.
As I noted at the time of the conviction, while the European Union protested, the U.S. was silent - not just the US government, but also the US media. Of course, the fact that the US media didn't report this event contributed significantly to the fact that the US government didn't feel compelled to respond to it.
Part of the reason that the US media doesn't cover these developments is that, for most of the U.S. news-consuming public, these developments don't have a context. Of course, this is a vicious cycle: the US media doesn't report much on events in the West Bank, so most Americans don't have a context to understand or care about them, which in turn discourages the US media from reporting on events in the West Bank.
But this cycle can be broken. The main political purpose of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla was to call world attention to the Israeli blockade of Gaza. When the Israeli military attacked the flotilla, it was a world-historical event. The flotilla generated press attention to the blockade, but more is true: the renewed press attention to the blockade established context that resulted in increased press coverage of the blockade that made little or no reference to the flotilla. Once the story of the blockade was out, a journalist could write a follow-up story about the blockade that stood a good chance of being printed.
And that's what "Budrus" could do: establish context for an American audience, so that when an Abdullah Abu Rahmah is convicted for protesting, the US media reports on it and the US government feels compelled to respond.
That would be a big change in the world.
But even if "Budrus" doesn't result in this world-historical change, it is likely to result in a smaller change that would still be worth your while.
If you have been following this issue over, say, the last twenty-five years, you know that images of Palestinians and Israelis are used constantly to obstruct people from effectively advocating constructive actions to bring about a just peace: Palestinians support violence. Israelis support the occupation. Palestinians and Israelis can never cooperate or live in peace.
As claims about objective reality, these images are lies, but they retain tremendous power. The situation is far outside the experience of most Americans, and that makes it easier to lie about it and get away with it.
If you watch this movie, you'll be vaccinated against these lies forever.
Furthermore, you'll gain a new superpower: the ability to effortlessly kill these lies on contact. Everyone knows that if someone claims that "Jews are greedy," all you have to do is to produce one example of a Jew who is not greedy and you vanquish their claim. After you see this movie, if someone says: "Palestinians support violence," you'll be able to say: "In Budrus, Palestinians used nonviolence." If someone says: "Israelis support the occupation," you'll be able to say: "In Budrus, Israelis helped defeat the occupation." If someone says, "Palestinians and Israelis will always be at war," you'll be able to say, "In Budrus, Palestinians and Israelis cooperated to defeat the confiscation of Palestinian land."
Wouldn't the acquisition of that superpower be worth the price of one movie ticket?