An Unlikely Story

I haven't seen Mohammed Bakri's film "Jenin Jenin." In fact, even if the film censorship board had approved its screening I probably wouldn't be the first in line to buy a ticket.

I haven't seen Mohammed Bakri's film "Jenin Jenin." In fact, even if the film censorship board had approved its screening I probably wouldn't be the first in line to buy a ticket. Not because I am afraid of "its truth," as Bakri, a well-known Israeli Arab actor, said about his film - which depicts the events of April 2002 in the refugee camp of the West Bank city of Jenin, when 23 Israelis and 52 Palestinians were killed - would override "my truth." "My truth" is secure. Its stability was further assured by Nissim Abuloff, the chairman of the censorship board, when he banned the film. It's also unlikely that Bakri's "truth" would have toppled the "truth" of the majority of Israel's Jewish residents, who describe the events in Jenin as a "non-massacre." And if there was no massacre, there is no story, certainly not a film, and least of all a document. We can read in the paper about Palestinians being killed in a non-massacre framework.

Abuloff's heavy hand was unnecessary. His action recalls the statement by the former Egyptian censor, Ali Abu Shadi, who decreed, "Censorship is a by-product of the society. It has a vital role until the society becomes sufficiently mature to replace governmental censorship with censorship by the public."

Abuloff is superfluous because Bakri's film about the events in Jenin, like the actual events there, is part of the narrative of another nation, which Israeli Jews steer well clear of. Israeli Jews don't attend memorial ceremonies of Palestinians, don't mark anniversaries of other peoples and don't salute when they pass monuments to Arab heroes in Egypt or Jordan. Israeli Jews agreed or were compelled to absorb Arab narratives only when they had a direct influence on the content of the Israeli collective memory. Kibiya (a town in Jordan that was the target of an Israeli reprisal raid in 1953), Deir Yassin (an Arab village on the edge of Jerusalem, where Jewish troops perpetrated a massacre in 1948), Ikrit and Birem (two Arab villages in the north that the Israeli army evacuated in 1948, after promising the inhabitants they would be able to return), the refugee problem in general and the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps massacre in 1982 are only a few examples of events in which denial of the Arab account was essential in order to purify the Israeli version. Israeli "history" was in danger. And when the facts made it impossible to sustain the denial, the very acceptance of the other narrative was a journey of self-purification: we massacred, we expelled, we plundered - but we put people on trial. "History" can continue. The Israeli narrative has been purified.

The events in the Jenin refugee camp have not entered the Israeli narrative, and the film "Jenin Jenin" remains entirely a Palestinian monument, because what happened there did not create the critical point of encounter that the collective memory demands: an encounter in which an event, or a series of events, suddenly change the perception of one's history and create a dilemma - should they be added to the collective album or consigned to oblivion? From this point of view, Jenin remains without value. At most it's another point in a publicity campaign.

As a result, the prospect that Mohammed Bakri will succeed in his attempt to get Israeli Jews to share in a Palestinian memory is about as great as the prospect that the Egyptian foreign minister will get Israelis to share in the sound-and-light memorial show about the Yom Kippur War that is held on the banks of the Nile. But the chairman of the censorship board took a different view. As far as he is concerned, at a time when the Israeli historical narrative of this intifada is still on scattered pieces of paper, not yet crystallized and still unprotected by the monopoly of national guidance, it's best for the governmental censors to go into action, lest the Arab implant the corruptive chip into the soft memory. "The Israeli public is liable to think mistakenly that IDF soldiers systematically and deliberately perpetrate war crimes," the spokesman of the censorship board said. Motherly concern is one thing, but why insult the Israeli public?

Indeed, what did the flaccid protest against this act of censorship target? Not Bakri's right to screen any film he wants, or the attempt to hide some sort of truth by means of a governmental fiat. No, the protest was against the insult to the maturity of the Israeli Jewish public. What does he think, our Mr. Abuloff, that Israelis will really flock to obtain Palestinian truth from an Israeli Arab?