Israel's AG Mulling Charges Against 'Jenin, Jenin' Director

Tomer Zarchin
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Tomer Zarchin

The attorney general will soon decide whether to file charges against Mohammed Bakri, director of the controversial film "Jenin, Jenin," which implies that Israel Defense Forces soldiers committed war crimes in a 2002 military operation in the Palestinian refugee camp.

Yehuda Weinstein called a meeting to discuss the possibility of charging Bakri and whoever assisted him in showing the film in public, with the participation of the state prosecutor, Moshe Lador, the military advocate general, Danny Efroni, the deputy attorney general, Ran Nizri, and two representatives of soldiers who fought in Jenin, as well as the attorney who conducted their failed libel case against Bakri.

'Jenin Jenin' director Mohammed Bakri.Credit: Reuters

The soldiers requested that Bakri be charged according to clause 6 of the Libel Law, which sets a punishment of up to one year in prison for deliberate libel. They pointed out that the Supreme Court's rejection of their libel suit against Bakri might be used by him as a "license" to continue screening the film, and urged Weinstein to use legal means to avoid screening. Another option the soldiers raised was to use the clause in the case of future screenings.

The State Prosecutor's Office has traditionally refrained from using this clause of the Libel Law, because of its possible repercussions vis-a-vis issues such as freedom of speech. The former attorney general, Menachem Mazuz, opposed using the clause against Bakri, despite being utterly opposed to the way the IDF was portrayed in Bakri's film. At the meeting the position of the State Prosecutor Office was that use of criminal law to prevent screening the film might lead to scathing criticism of Israel abroad, as well as reawakening interest in the 2003 film. Furthermore, such a use of the criminal law could, instead of discouraging him from screening the film, actually have the opposite effect on Bakri.

The libel suit was filed by a group of soldiers who fought in Jenin in "Operation Defensive Shield," although none of them was specifically mentioned in the film. In 2008 the Petah Tikva District Court ruled that Bakri had indeed slandered Israeli soldiers, but the plaintiffs were not personally slandered and thus had no basis for a suit. The Supreme Court upheld the decision in July 2011.

David Tzengen, who served as a doctor at the time of the fighting in Jenin, is currently promoting an amendment to the Libel Law that would fine whoever libels IDF soldiers or the state, with the aim of delegitimizing Israel.

Bakri, who is also a renowned actor, is currently starring in a production of Frederico Garia Lorca's "The House of Bernarda Alba."

Culture Minister Limor Livnat recently joined the right-wing Im Tirtzu organization in calling on theater to ban Bakri from stages in Israel.