IDF Soldiers, 'Jenin, Jenin' Director to Face Off in Supreme Court Over Libel Suit

Tomer Zarchin
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Tomer Zarchin

A group of IDF soldiers who took part in the 2002 battle of Jenin will take on filmmaker Mohammed Bakri, who directed the controversial documentary "Jenin, Jenin," this morning in the Supreme Court.

The justices are set to discuss the defamation suit brought by five soldiers who fought in the Jenin battle, as part of Operation Defensive Shield, and who object to Bakri's 2003 film, which portrays Israeli soldiers as war criminals. The soldiers are appealing a lower court ruling, which held that their defamation claim lacked merit.

Relatives of soldiers killed in Jenin hanging signs in Jerusalem in 2003 to protest the film “Jenin Jenin.” Credit: Pierre Turgeman

"We have here a war for our right to exist as a state," said Dr. Dor Zangen, the brigade physician at the time of the operation. "Bakri has fired shots, and we need to respond by going to war. A person who opens fire needs to understand that somebody will fight back...

"A price must be paid when someone calls thousands of soldiers - soldiers who went out to prevent terror attacks on the streets of Israel, who fought in an extraordinarily moral fashion, and who also lost 23 comrades - 'war criminals,'" declared Zangen.

A special committee formed to support Bakri is staging a solidarity demonstration tomorrow in front of the Supreme Court building in Jerusalem on the filmmaker's behalf.

Rafik Bakri, a relative of the filmmaker and member of this committee, said they are protesting the "political persecution of Mohammed Bakri. We are saying that this starts with political persecution perpetrated by soldiers and ends with government persecution - when former Attorney General [Menachem] Mazuz is dragged into it, declares his support for the complaint and joins the soldiers' appeal."

Mazuz joins the appeal

In 2007, the five soldiers lodged a defamation claim against Mohammed Bakri, demanding NIS 2.5 million in compensation. It bears noting that the plaintiffs themselves are not seen in the film, nor are their names mentioned in it.

In 2008, the Petah Tikva District Court ruled that while the film defames IDF soldiers on the whole, not every soldier who took part in Defensive Shield has a right to sue for slander. Judge Michal Nadav wrote that "in view of the size of the group - hundreds of IDF soldiers who took part in the operation - I am not convinced that there is cause to think that a reasonable person will believe the film relates to each individual soldier who took part in the operation. This is especially true considering the fact that the film does not state that all actions portrayed were carried out by every single IDF soldier."

"The claimants are not seen in the film, nor are they mentioned by name - neither explicitly nor implicitly - and so the plaintiffs' claim that viewers will interpret the [movie's accusations] as being directed against them is not plausible," Nadav added.

Not long before leaving his post as attorney general, Mazuz informed the Supreme Court of his intention to join the soldiers' appeal of this lower court ruling, due to his desire to serve the public interest. He clarified that he would not submit a criminal indictment against Bakri for defamation. Among other considerations, the former attorney general indicated such an indictment would merely escalate interest in the documentary film and what Mazuz terms its "baseless accusations."