The Truth and Nothing But

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Mohammed Bakri at the Lod District Court, February 6, 2020.
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

If Mohammad Bakri’s film “Jenin, Jenin” is banned from being shown in Israel, then every television news broadcast will have to be banned too. In nearly every broadcast, there is more propaganda, slander, exaggeration, psychological repression and lying than in Bakri’s wonderful, genuine and heart-wrenching film. I watched it again Tuesday. Memories of the Jenin refugee camp resurface, along with the atrocities, the tears, the pain and disaster, as well as the Israeli army’s crimes.

The group of Israeli reservist soldiers who are sensitive about their honorable reputation and who over the years have hounded Bakri should therefore be thanked. Thanks to them, Bakri’s film has been alive and kicking for 20 years and is now gaining new success. Since the Lod District Court’s decision on Monday, there has been a sharp increase in the viewership of “Jenin, Jenin” on the Palestine Film Institute’s website.

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Lod District Court Judge Halit Silash, who handed down the dark, primitive, draconian and anti-democratic decision, should also be thanked. Thanks to her, the situation has been revealed in its full ugliness: An Israeli court is banning the showing of a documentary film. Judge Silash is in charge of the truth, and she knows what happened and didn’t happen in the Jenin refugee camp in 2002.

There’s even symbolic significance to the location of her courthouse. Lod – Lydda, as it was known before Israel’s establishment – knows a thing or two about massacres, ethnic cleansing, discrimination and dispossession. Now there’s also a judge in Lod who is silencing people and surrendering to soldiers who participated in a criminal raid and who, in their great impudence, dared to sue for defamation.

This says it all: None of the soldiers who participated in the raid in Jenin faced a trial for their crimes. It was only the person who documented them – who gave the pain and suffering a camera and a microphone – who was placed on the pillory. Israel also never paid compensation to any of the residents of the camp whose lives and homes it destroyed. It was only Bakri who is being required to pay compensation – to a soldier for his three seconds in the film.

Judge Silash was good enough to set out the parameters of this distorted Israeli morality, and should be thanked for it. But the biggest thanks has to go to Bakri, a brave, noble artist, who paid an unbearably heavy price for his film. The day will come when “Jenin, Jenin” is shown in every school as a mandatory lesson on Israeli civics and history.

Bakri went to Jenin to listen to the pain, which burst forth from everyone who spoke. There may have been exaggeration from some of them, perhaps even lies. But the irony is that, thanks to them, we have been exposed to the truth. If it had not been for the scandal over the film, it would not have been in the spotlight. The truth burst forth in every scene, as did the proven war crimes, which no one spoke about – not the judge from Lod nor the justice-seeking reservists.

Were the pictures of the terrifying destruction of the camp a lie? Were the accounts of Israeli army shelling of the hospital – a war crime – defamatory? Were the tears not genuine? Was the unbelievable suffering of human beings who have been refugees two or three times over fake news?

Were the children rummaging through the ruins that had been their homes the product of imagination? Was the doctor who witnessed the death of his son an actor? Was the rubble a Hollywood set?

But how can we compare all of that to the suffering of the plaintiff in the court case, reserve Lt. Col. Nissim Magnaji, who is now to receive compensation? After all, on Tuesday, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily recounted how Israeli soldiers had distributed food to children in the camp after demolishing their homes.

There was no war crime mentioned in the film that the army did not commit in Jenin, prior to Jenin or after Jenin. Did the army not fatally shoot Ibrahim Abu-Turia, a double amputee in a wheelchair at the border fence in Gaza? Did the army not kill 344 children in Gaza in Operation Cast Lead in late 2008 and early 2009 or 549 children in Operation Protective Edge in 2014? Were these not war crimes?

Every time the Israeli media reports on the occupation, it mostly doesn’t report. And when it does so, it relies on lies, half-truths and propaganda generated by the Israeli army spokesman and the settlers. From now on, it will be possible to sue the media for defamation, for defaming the truth, and also to ban its dissemination. Judge Silash would approve.

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