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Palestinian nonviolence: Is the Budrus model still viable?

The recent film 'Budrus' champions a West Bank village's nonviolent resistance that inspired more than 15 similar protest movements. But the momentum is waning.

By Daniella CheslowCorrespondent / December 10, 2010

Palestinian women shout anti-Israel slogans during a demonstration by hundreds of Palestinians against the construction of the Israeli 'Security fence' which goes over their land in the West Bank village of Budrus on Dec. 2003. The film, called 'Budrus,' champions the West Bank village of the same name as a model of nonviolent resistance.

Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom

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Jerusalem

With Middle East peace talks on the brink after the US this week gave up on an Israeli settlement freeze, Palestinians are reevaluating their options for securing statehood.

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Amid disappointment with both negotiations and violence, a documentary film now showing around the globe highlights the nonviolence protest movement as a hopeful alternative.

The film, called "Budrus," champions the West Bank village of the same name as a model of nonviolent resistance. It profiles the 2003 struggle of a Palestinian father and daughter who brought together Fatah, Hamas, and even Israelis, to prevent their village from being divided by the Israeli separation barrier.

After 10 months of protests, Israel scrapped its plans to put 300 acres of Budrus's land on the Israeli side of the wall, instead rerouting the barrier, says Ayed Morrar, who led the demonstrations.

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Budrus’s success has spurred at least 15 similar movements in towns across the West Bank, perhaps most notably in the central West Bank village of Bilin. The protests stand out against earlier forms of resistance to Israeli rule, such as the suicide bombings of the second intifada that began in 2000.

“Bilin has become a symbol, a subject of Master’s theses, films, blogs, and articles," says Menachem Klein, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv. "Budrus and Bilin maintain the resistance while the Palestinian elite attend talks and readily accept painful concessions on settlements.”

Yet he calls these weekly events a “ceremony” that may not actually achieve change.

Why Budrus model has met with limited success

Indeed, even as "Budrus" is embraced by audiences from America to Germany to the West Bank, the momentum generated by Budrus is waning. Only nine villages hold regular demonstrations and they are often met with a harsh Israeli response, Mr. Morrar says. Now, the model of nonviolence appears to be faltering amid lack of a unified leadership and apathy among local Palestinians.

Protest leaders acknowledge that while Morrar achieved tangible success, Palestinians as a whole have not reached their ultimate goal.

“Ayed succeeded in a specific goal, but in general as Palestinians we have not succeeded, because the goal is to remove the wall and end the occupation,” says Bassem Tamimi, who began leading demonstrations a year ago in nearby Nabi Saleh against the expansion of the neighboring Jewish settlement Halamish.

Mr. Tamimi, who met Morrar while the two protested together in the first intifada in the 1980s, said 150 locals have been injured by Israelis at the weekly protests in Nabi Saleh.

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