Mazuz's Farewell Decision: Will 'Jenin, Jenin' Director Be Indicted?

Mohammed Bakri's film accuses IDF troops of committing war crimes during an April 2002 operation.

Before he steps down late next month, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz is expected to decide on a case likely to again provoke considerable debate on freedom of expression - whether actor and director Mohammed Bakri should be indicted for his controversial film "Jenin, Jenin."

On Monday this week Mazuz held a special meeting with State Prosecutor Moshe Lador; the chief of the Israel Defense Forces Armored Corps, Brigadier General Agai Yehezkel; representatives of soldiers who fought in the Jenin refugee camp during Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002; and family members of soldiers killed during the battle.

The soldiers and bereaved families were represented by attorney Navot Tel-Tzur, who demanded that Mazuz use his authority on the basis of the laws against libel and bring criminal charges against Bakri, whose film accuses IDF troops of committing war crimes during the operation.

The meeting between Mazuz and the families of fallen soldiers was tense. Each of the families spoke in turn, and Mazuz listened.

"If you avoid pressing charges against Bakri, [that] means preventing and rejecting our right as citizens and soldiers to carry out a legal investigation into whether our arms are pure or our actions were flawed," one of the veterans, Israel Caspi, told Mazuz. "You cannot deny our final recourse to clear our names," he added.

Among those taking part in the meeting was Shlomo Azuri, whose son Eyal was killed during the battle in the camp.

On Wednesday he told Haaretz that "the names of the soldiers needs to be cleared. Thirteen soldiers were killed because we wanted to do the right thing. This movie is full of lies. They harmed the name of the soldiers and stained the dead. Mazuz supported us. He said that we are right, but there are legal limits. There can be no freedom of expression for lies."

Mazuz has a problem. At a meeting two months ago between representatives of the soldiers and the families, deputy attorney general Shai Nitzan said there is great difficulty in cases involving libel. Nitzan, who is charged with investigating and bringing charges in cases on freedom of speech, has reiterated at every opportunity that he rarely initiates investigations or brings charges against persons in such matters.

In this particular case the matter is even more difficult because it involves a cinematic creation - even if the claims it contains are false.

Among the difficulties faced by Mazuz is the Supreme Court ruling of November 2003, which permitted the screening of the movie, after it had been rejected by the Ministry of Culture's Film Ratings Board. The panel of justices ruled that the board's decision undermined freedom of expression in a disproportionate way and contravened the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty.

Meanwhile, Military Advocate General Brigadier General Avihai Mandelblit asked Mazuz last year to initiate criminal proceedings against Bakri.

The suit for libel filed by five soldiers against Bakri was rejected in a District Court, which ruled that although the movie is libelous, the film is directed at a general public and therefore the five reservist soldiers had no right to claim compensation.

The soldiers appealed to the Supreme Court, with the help of attorney Amir Titonowitz and Ya'akov Ne'eman, who is currently serving as justice minister.

Mazuz promised the soldiers and the families he will decide on the matter before the end of his tenure in one of two ways: either to bring charges against Bakri or to join the appeal against the District Court's decision.

The representatives of the families and the troops reject the latter option, arguing that it would do little to dispel the serious allegations against the soldiers and their conduct during the fighting.

The Justice Ministry confirmed that two months ago a meeting was held with Shai Nitzan and that he met this week with Mazuz and other senior officials.

Meanwhile, Avigdor Feldman, representing Bakri, said in response that the soldiers "have already tried their luck in a libel suit that was rejected, and it would be best if they and the attorney general concentrate on more important things."