Watching Budrus with American Evangelicals
In February 2013, after my beloved Arsenal FC were dumped out of the English F.A. Cup by a lesser side, one of The Guardian's soccer pundits used the words above to capture the situation. One month later, on the heels of US President Barack Obama's first state visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, I found myself channeling that cheeky one-liner in reference to a conflict slightly more passionate than soccer tournaments.
In Israel as in Palestine, ideals are always getting caught up in the ever-changing, ever-stagnant whirlwind of actual happenings. The documentary film Budrus (2009)—named for the West Bank village which features in it—offers the viewer partial glimpses into this unyielding human drama. For this reason, I can't recommend the film enough.
The context for my first viewing of Budrus was an Awareness Film event hosted by First Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., on a Sunday afternoon. Because of my bridge-building and peacemaking work among Muslims through Peace Catalyst International, I was asked to facilitate the post-film reflection and conversation. Easier said than done; thank you very much.
Before I could frame a decent set of semi-balanced, constructive questions for the 30 or so Baptists and others in attendance, I encountered what might be considered a typical range of reaction-responses from American evangelicals. "I've never heard/seen that side of the story." "Well, isn't that a lovely piece of Palestinian propaganda?" "There are nonviolent Palestinian Muslims?" "The US is obligated to support Israel because the Bible tells us so." Perhaps in moments precisely like these it's good to be reminded that American evangelicals make up approximately five percent of the number of Christians worldwide, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity.
An award-winning film, Budrus will unearth disparate reactions—visceral, emotional, cultural, political, historical, theological. It also will elicit a response somewhat parallel one Israeli student's response upon hearing Obama's speech on March 21, 2013, at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem. The student said: "I'm still digesting it. We need to focus on the future. There is no guilty or innocent side." (We have to assume the student more accurately meant: there is no purely guilty or purely innocent side within this aching social dilemma and human equation.)
Despite the fascinating Palestinian and Israeli characters in the film, a reality will soon smack you square in the face: the wall—a "security or separation barrier," if you like—easily serves as the most prominent and most intriguing character in the narrative. In fact, at one point, an Israeli army captain tells the Palestinian protesters who are lamenting their destroyed olive trees while blocking the path of large bulldozers: "This is not going to stop the building of the wall." Indeed, the event of the wall has conspired against the ideals of an emerging Palestinian nonviolent movement.
But the army captain is saying what some of us hold as an inalienable truth: walls will be made. And so we watch the de-struction and con-struction. There is simply no getting past "the wall"; there is only the character development around it.
In the character of Ayed Morrar you will come to see the radical extremism of personal sacrifice, morally and appropriately applied, for the desired flourishing of everyone. Here is a Palestinian Muslim peacemaker convinced that only nonviolent means of protesting injustices are the way forward in the fight against the whirlwind. His principles of inclusion and unity will blow your mind even as they push your heart's limits. For instance, he encourages Hamas to join the Budrus demonstrations: "[I am] the most ardent critic of the ideology of Hamas. However, they are an authentic part of Palestinian society."
Ayed's peacemaking seems genuinely inspired by the real-world dream of world re-making—the privilege of participating with God in creating what is possible in spite of ourselves. In this way, Ayed's hope might resemble the Christian hope of reconciliation and renewal, which is, according to Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice, "a vision…grounded in the unseen."
Meanwhile, in the character of Ayed’s daughter, Illtezam, you will feel the strong current of gender consciousness flowing through the religious and cultural structures of Islam. She lobbies her dad, successfully, to include women in the risk-filled demonstrations in Budrus. She steps audaciously into a hole in order to prevent an Israeli army bulldozer from tearing into more of the village's olive trees. In one critically telling moment, after witnessing Israeli Jews protesting alongside Palestinian Muslims, she admits that she can now conceive of friendship with Israeli Jews because she has seen that not all Jews are "the enemy."
In an essay included in the recently released The Routledge Reader in Christian-Muslim Relations, Religion Watch editor Richard Cimino describes the role of Christian fundamentalist interpretations of biblical prophecy which account strongly for the negative view of some American evangelicals regarding Muslims, especially in connection to the conflict in Israel-Palestine. This inclination, he says, more often than not manifests itself in the tenets of Christian Zionism.
Speaking at the Evangelicals for Peace summit in Washington, D.C., in 2012, Pastor Bob Roberts, Jr.—in his bold, disarming Texas manner—urged American evangelicals to move beyond "speculative theology." Roberts said that committed Jesus-followers are compelled time and again to return to a truth-filled Christian vision of Muslims as well as all peoples, a vision rooted in the concrete teachings of Jesus in the gospels. Like Adam Estle, executive director of Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding, maybe more American evangelicals could eventually arrive at the place where we say of the intractable conflict: "My sense of urgency to be part of a just, secure, and peaceful resolution is multiplied."
For Christians, watching Budrus will provide yet another provocative reminder that the daily walls we construct—from any number of available materials—are, at first, immaterial, rising up in the heart and separating us from our neighbors.