IDF Pushing to Indict 'Jenin, Jenin' Director for Libel

IDF to present case for indicting Mohammed Bakri at meeting scheduled with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein.

The Israel Defense Forces is requesting that the attorney general indict Mohammed Bakri, director of the film "Jenin, Jenin," for libel.

At a meeting scheduled for Monday with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, the IDF will present its case for opening a criminal investigation against Bakri.

The law generally does not allow the pressing of defamation charges if the target was a group, only if the victim or victims are specific individuals - and in fact, a group of reservists who spent eight years trying to sue Bakri for slander failed on these grounds.

However, there is a reservation in the law that allows the attorney general to approve a slander indictment, even against a group, if he so chooses. What's more, the IDF is now putting its weight behind the request.

During Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002, the IDF invaded a Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin. Soon after the operation was launched, rumors began circulating about a "massacre" of hundreds of people in the camp, rumors that were later refuted, both by the IDF and by human rights groups that investigated the events.

During the operation, Bakri, who had heard the rumors, decided to sneak into the camp with a camera to find out what happened. The result was "Jenin, Jenin," a film featuring interviews with Jenin residents that left the impression a massacre had indeed occurred. No Israelis were interviewed for the film.

In July 2011 the reservists lost their legal battle against Bakri when the Supreme Court rejected their appeal of a 2008 Petah Tikva District Court ruling. In the earlier ruling, the judge stated that while Bakri had indeed defamed IDF soldiers as a group, the appellants themselves were not seen in the film, nor their names mentioned, so they had no standing to sue.

Both the lower court and the Supreme Court stated that the film had indeed spread lies about IDF soldiers, but still rejected the suit on technical grounds.

The reservists had approached Weinstein earlier this year with a request to either charge Bakri or launch a criminal investigation, but the IDF is now getting involved. A few months ago Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz appointed a committee to deal with the issues relating to the reservists' effort. Senior army sources say Gantz wants to wrap up the issues relating to the film once and for all.

The IDF is now producing what it says is its own version of "Jenin, Jenin," a documentary that will combine interviews with veterans of those battles with re-enacted versions of some of the events. A senior army source said the IDF film was not an effort to confront Bakri, but "to screen a film for the IDF and for our soldiers."

The IDF film will be shown to IDF officers during officers' courses.

Hagai Frid