Israeli Court Bans 2002 Documentary 'Jenin, Jenin' Following Soldier's Libel Suit

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Mohammad Bakri at the Lod District Court, February 2020.
Mohammad Bakri at the Lod District Court, February 2020.Credit: Ilan Assayag

An Israeli court ruled on Monday that screening or distributing Mohammed Bakri's controversial documentary "Jenin, Jenin" should be banned and that all copies of it should be seized.

Lod District Court Judge Halit Silash also ruled that actor and director Bakri must pay 175,000 shekels ($55,000) to a reservist who appears in the film as a participant in the battle in the Jenin refugee camp in 2002.

Finally, she charged Bakri 50,000 shekels in court costs.

The soldier, Nissim Magnaji, filed a libel suit for 2.6 million shekels against Bakri in 2017, a suit supported by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit. Though Magnaji appears in the film only in a few seconds of archival footage, he filed the suit because the courts had dismissed an earlier libel suit against Bakri on the grounds that only someone who appeared in the film could claim to be libeled.

The film suggests Israeli soldiers committed war crimes in Jenin during Operation Defensive Shield.

Silash wrote that Bakri’s film pretends to be documentary, but “he deliberately chose not to do any checks, even the most minimal or preliminary, of the allegations and facts” in the interviews he included in it. She concluded that “there’s no truth in the main assertions made in the film, there’s no good faith in their presentation, and that the defendant took no steps whatsoever to substantiate the factual claims,” and therefore, Bakri cannot avail himself of any of the defenses specified in the libel law.

“And on the other side is the plaintiff, a private individual who was called up by the State of Israel for military service during Operation Defensive Shield and finds himself depicted in the body of this film as someone who looted all of another person’s money – a helpless elderly man – as part of the depiction of a comprehensive alternative reality of the defendant’s own creation.”

“Jenin, Jenin” was first screened in 2002, after the High Court of Justice overturned the Film Censorship Board’s decision to ban it. At the same time, five reservists filed a libel suit against Bakri, saying the film libeled all the soldiers who fought in Jenin.

But a lower court rejected that suit, and the Supreme Court upheld that decision. While the film indeed contains lies, the Supreme Court said, it doesn’t show or mention any of the plaintiffs specifically, and therefore, they cannot claim to have been libeled.

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