Belated Justice for the Mother Teresa Tank Brigade in Jenin

Odeh Bisharat
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'Jenin, Jenin' director Mohammad Bakri at the Lod District Court, December 27, 2017.
'Jenin, Jenin' director Mohammad Bakri at the Lod District Court, December 27, 2017.Credit: Moti Milrod
Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat

Nissim Meghnagi, who filed a defamation suit against Mohammed Bakri, director of the film “Jenin, Jenin,” told Yedioth Ahronoth, “When I checked before the trial who from among our brigade had seen the film, I discovered that no one had seen it. Everyone I know wanted to disconnect, to forget about it.”

That’s interesting, given that Maj. (res.) Yisrael Caspi, who had been there, said, “We fought like Mother Teresa, a compassionate nurse.” If that was the case, one would expect that all the soldiers in the battalion would be running to visit those whom they treated like a compassionate nurse. But deep inside everyone knows that something terrible happened there, about which it’s best to keep mum.

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The Jenin refugee camp was opened in 1953, and most of its residents are refugees from the Carmel region in Haifa. When the Israeli army occupied the camp in 2003, some 15,000 refugees lived there in difficult conditions on 473 dunams (184 acres), dreaming of when they’d no longer be refugees. I’m asking not as a Palestinian or a Jew, but simply as a human being: What should a soldier do when they are facing a besieged camp with the world’s most advanced weapons, and their aim is to subdue unfortunate people who have decided not to surrender and add another tier to the tragedy that has been unfolding since 1948?

A few months ago there was an answer. Hallel Rabin, a young Jewish girl, decided not to sink into the morass of the occupation. Why should she be there when her comrades were poised to commit acts that would lead to death and destruction? Any rational person, not just a moral one, would tell themself: Get away from there, don’t be a hero on the bodies of the weak, don’t even be Mother Teresa if you’re coming in a tank. After all, the real Mother Teresa comes while wiping away a tear, and in a moment would offer assistance.

The occupation culture has created soldiers who seek to cause a tornado of destruction and emerge from it without a speck of dust on their uniforms. This ambition has been present since the beginning, since the glorified 1948 generation, which today turns out to have been a generation of thieves.

Purging one’s conscience is pitiful. The soldiers who wanted to cleanse themselves of what Teddy Katz attributed to them in his academic work forgot to explain how the expulsion of all the residents of Tantura village took place under the sights of their pure arms. What’s important, even if there was no massacre, was that they sent these distressed people to the sites of eventual slaughter. Egyptian writer Radwa Ashour tells of residents of Tantura who ended up being killed in Sabra and Chatila.

In Jenin “only” 52 of the 15,000 refugees were killed. A similar proportion in Gaza, which has 2 million people, would be 7,000 dead. An entire neighborhood was bulldozed. Twenty-three Israeli soldiers were also killed on foreign soil; young people for whom a different future beckoned, far from death.

I would have expected that these commanders would do some soul searching and ask themselves why they were there, on land that wasn’t theirs. In their place I wouldn’t be analyzing four minutes of a film in which an old man, shocked by the death and destruction, tells of what he saw and heard – which, naturally, given the trauma, would tend toward exaggeration. If only four minutes are the problem, the other 50 minutes are the whole truth.

But there’s no chance that these commanders will ever make a personal accounting. One who calls Bakri “a piece of dreck hiding behind Israeli citizenship” or complains that they're getting “national insurance” has national supremacy implanted deep in their heart and will remain obtuse, not understanding what he did, even without those four minutes.

Even after winning their case, these commanders cannot take pride about being there while the camp was bleeding. By contrast, Bakri can tell his grandchildren that during the moment of truth, he served as a voice for traumatized people who had no voice.

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