Peaceful protests in Middle East inspire advocacy at UMD

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By Katherine Brzozowski
For Mitzpeh
@katbrzoz29

J Street UMD presented “Budrus: It Takes a Village to Unite the Most Divided People on Earth,” a documentary about conflict in a Palestinian village, at the Stamp Student Union Monday night. J Street showed the film to start a conversation about the power of nonviolent protest.

J Street UMD is a political advocacy group that promotes a two-state solution, said J Street UMD Co-President Katia Cavigelli.

“We are pro Israeli, pro Palestinian, pro [two-state solution], and anti occupation,” Cavigelli, a junior government and politics and French language and literature major, said. “The two-state solution [supports] the self determination of Israelis and Palestinians in two separate states, which would be Gaza and the West Bank for Palestine and Israel on the pre 1967 armistice line.”

The event began with the documentary about peaceful protesting in Budrus and concluded with a group discussion of the film and an explanation of J Street Southeast’s regional partnership with Jubbet adh-Dhib, a village similar to Budrus.

The film focuses on the conflict surrounding security fences that Israelis tried to build through a Palestinian village called Budrus and the response of the villagers who had lived there for generations.

The security wall would mean that the village would lose 300 acres of land and 3,000 olive trees, according to the film. The wall would also cut through the village cemetery and come as close as 40 meters from the village school.

The film walks the viewer through the sentimental connection that the Palestinians had with their sacred olive trees and their land. It also focuses on how women and young people played a large role in peaceful protest in the village.

“[The film] focused on the women specifically in the village which I liked, and that is something people hold over palestinians and Arabs in general is their treatment of women, [LGBTQ] and other minorities amongst them,” said J Street UMD Treasurer Mia Carmel, a junior economics and public policy major.

 

J Street UMD Co-President Katia Cavigelli leads students in a small group discussion about the film. Katherine Brzozowski/Mitzpeh.

 

Although the protests always had peaceful intentions, violence came from both sides before the fencing conflict ended. Israeli military used tear gas, batons and rubber bullets that briefly turned into real bullets. Palestinians responded by throwing stones.

By the film’s end, the Budrus protests had gained supporters from all over the world, including Israelis.

“[The film] was biased towards leftist Israeli or western leftist and especially towards the non-violent peaceful protesters camp,” said Noam Kaplan, a freshman aerospace engineering major.

But Kaplan thought the film did a good job of describing an instance where people will look at a future model for protests. Though the film was occasionally critical of Palestinians throwing rocks, it was very critical of the way that Israeli soldiers conducted themselves, Kaplan said.

“The bigger question shouldn’t be about the soldiers, the soldiers are doing their job and clearing the area,” Kaplan said. “The root of the problem is that these people don’t feel represented by the people controlling them.”

The importance of this dialogue, Cavigelli said, was to draw attention to the power of peaceful protest and how Budrus inspired villages across the West Bank to adopt non-violent protests to protect their lands.

J Street’s southeast region is partnering with Jubbet adh-Dhib, a similar village to Budrus in terms of its population size and how its lack of resources contributes to its vulnerability, Carmel said. She hoped that the movie would let students start a conversation about the conflict, so that J Street can better advocate for Jubbet Adh-Dhib through peaceful protest.

“It’s hard to work in political advocacy on a college campus in general, and especially on a college campus like [UMD] where people are really apathetic,” Carmel said. “I think that we are apathetic because [students] are pre-professional and a lot of people have serious internships. I often put [causes like this] before my schoolwork because to me this is much more engaging and I learn a lot from it but I don’t expect a lot of students to feel that way about it.”

After the 2016 election, Carmel thought she’d see a significant change in students’ willingness to get involved, but, from her perspective, she hasn’t. She said it shows how apathy persists and maintains itself on a college campus, and that it is sad.

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