Israel bans documentary about 'war crimes' by Arab director

Israeli court bans documentary exploring alleged war crimes in Palestinian refugee camp
2 min read
Mohammed Bakri’s 'Jenin, Jenin' - which depicts clashes in 2002 at Jenin refugee camp - has now been banned in Israel, after over a decade of legal challenges.
Bakri's film focuses on 2002 clashes in Jenin that left 52 Palestinians dead [FilmMagic]

An Israeli court has banned the screening and distribution of a 2002 documentary made by an Israeli Palestinian director relaying the accounts of Palestinians caught up in the Battle of Jenin, which left at least 22 civilians dead, according to Human Rights Watch.

Judge Halit Silash of Israel's central Lod District Court ruled in favour of a libel claim by an Israeli soldier who appeared in the film and accused actor and director Mohammad Bakri of deliberately choosing "not to do any checks, even the most minimal or preliminary, of the allegations and facts" in interviews in the film, Haaretz reported.

She added there was "no truth in the main assertion in the film" and "no good faith in their presentation".

Judge Silash also ruled that Mohammed Bakri must pay 175,000 shekels ($55,000) in damages to Nissim Magnaji, an Israeli army reservist who appeared in Jenin, Jenin, a documentary set in the refugee camp named after the Palestinian city.

"The plaintiff, a private individual who was called up by the State of Israel for military service during Operation Defensive Shield… finds himself depicted in the body of this film as someone who looted all of another person's money – a helpless elderly man - as part of… a comprehensive alternative reality of the defendant's own creation," she said.

The decision comes after Magnaji - who appears in a few seconds of archival footage - filed a libel suit seeking 2.6 million shekels from the prominent director in 2017. Prior to that, the Israeli court had ruled that only those who appeared in the film could submit libel claims.

Bakri angered Israelis with the release of his film, which focuses on clashes in April 2002 at Jenin refugee camp that left 52 Palestinian dead, as well as 23 Israeli soldiers.

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Research by Human Rights Watch in 2002 found that "during their incursion into the Jenin refugee camp, Israeli forces committed serious violations of international humanitarian law, some amounting prima facie to war crimes".

Jenin, Jenin was banned after a few screenings, but this was later overturned by the supreme court.

The film has been the subject of numerous legal challenges. Bakri’s lawyer said the latest ruling was a "political decision" aimed at "silencing any voice that differs from the Israeli narrative".

Bakri will reportedly appeal, dismissing the decision as "unfair" and insisting the judge had acted on instructions "from above" in comments to AFP.

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