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The military censors have prevented the release of a documentary on an espionage affair in an intervention unprecedented since the banning of Mohammed Bakri's 2002 film "Jenin, Jenin."

The documentary, "The Secret Kingdom" by Nir Toib, features extensive interviews with Brig. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak "Yatza" Yaakov. Yaakov is a veteran of the Palmach - the pre-state military strike force - Israel's first chief scientist and a former research and development head for the Israel Defense Forces. He was arrested in 2001 and interrogated for 18 months on suspicion of espionage.

The film was due to be screened at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque and was to be shown later on a cable TV documentary station, Channel 8. The military censors demanded that the film be cut so substantially that Toib had no choice but to withdraw it altogether, he said. Toib said he will appeal the censor's decision at the Supreme Court.

Yaakov, a resident of the United States, arrived in Israel in 2001 to celebrate his 75th birthday. The morning after the celebration, he was arrested and detained for 18 months. His arrest was prompted by an interview with Ronen Bergman for the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.

Yaakov's trial was conducted behind closed doors. "He was eventually convicted of giving an unauthorized interview and got a suspended sentence," Toib said. He says his film is an attempt to look into the affair and see how Israel's defense establishment deals with people it sees as enemies.

"I approached Yaakov about three years ago and told him, let's make a movie," Toib said. "I began filming, but as soon as I approached certain people, like [former attorney general] Elyakim Rubinstein and [Supreme Court Justice] Edna Arbel, I was jumped by the censors. 'Good people tell us you're milling around with a camera making a film about Yatza, so watch your step,' they told me. I asked them why they were talking to me in the middle of the filming process, when films are usually submitted to censorship when they are complete.

"They told me that not only the censors, but also the defense establishment's security director would be examining the movie. I told them this was out of the question. The security director is the subject of the film, he can't vet a film made about himself."

When the film was finished around two weeks ago, Toib invited the censors to watch it.

"They basically shut my mouth with tape," Toib said. "I can't even say what kind of a discussion the film might provoke. They claim they only cut 15 percent of the movie, but they really took out its heart. What's left of the film is a shredded corpse," Toib said.

The censor responded that the movie had been in production for three years, but Toib sent it to the censor a few days ago. Over a year ago the censor asked Toib to heed security and legal issues, it said.

Still, the film was returned to Toib quickly with the necessary changes in light of expected harm to the state, the censor said. Despite his right to appeal, he chose to appeal to the media, it added.