Tuesday, September 18, 2007

'Jenin, Jenin', now in court

Sep 17, 2007 23:51 | Updated Sep 18, 2007 9:44

Petah Tikva District Court is due on Tuesday to begin hearings on a NIS 2.5 million lawsuit filed more than four years ago by five soldiers who fought in the Jenin refugee camp during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002.

Ofer Ben-Natan, Doron Keidar, Nir Oshri, Adam Arbiv and Yonatan Van-Kaspel sued Israeli Arab actor and director Muhammad Bakri for producing the film Jenin, Jenin, and the cinamatheques in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for screening them, even though the film had been banned at the time by the state censor.

The film became a cause celebre when Bakri petitioned the High Court of Justice against the censor for prohibiting the screening of the film on the grounds that it distorted the truth. After a long fight, the court rejected the censor's decision and allowed the film to be shown in Israel.

The movie touched a raw nerve among Israelis. It was released in the middle of the intifada, when Palestinian suicide bombers were murdering many Israelis. Furthermore, the army's incursion into the Jenin refugee camp came in response to a spate of suicide attacks in March 2002, culminating in the attack on the Park Hotel in Netanya on the night of the Pessah Seder on March 27, in which 29 Israelis were killed.

During the fighting in Jenin, Palestinian spokesmen, human rights organizations and foreign journalists accused Israel of conducting a civilian massacre. In the end, it emerged, according to Israeli figures, that 52 Palestinians were killed in the refugee camp, including 38 armed fighters and 14 civilians. Twenty-three IDF soldiers died in the fighting.

Basing itself mainly on interviews with Palestinians in the refugee camp after the fighting ended, but also on film clips, Bakri portrayed Israeli troops as committing a series of war crimes. Although he described the film as a documentary, he did not interview Israeli officials or give them an opportunity to refute the allegations contained in the film.

The lawsuit, which was filed of behalf of the plaintiffs by attorney Amir Tytunovich, provides a long list of alleged examples of these allegations, including:

• An old man claimed that soldiers shot him in the arm and leg in cold blood without cause.

• A film segment was edited to indicate that a bulldozer drove over a group of Palestinians lined up on the ground.

• Soldiers used children as human shields and ordered them to make holes in the walls of houses so they could progress from one to the next without exposing themselves. They warned they would shoot the children if they did not obey.

• Soldiers executed a disabled and retarded man by running him over with a bulldozer.

• A doctor at a Jenin hospital accused the IDF of removing the bodies of Palestinians killed in the fighting.

• Soldiers tied up a Palestinian and shot him.

The lawsuit includes 13 incidents it describes as libel. "All of the terrible things listed above did not happen and are not true," Tytunovich wrote. He also wrote that in its advertisements for the film, the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem cinamatheques displayed a photograph of two of the plaintiffs, Ben-Natan and Keidar.

Bakri is being represented by attorney Avigdor Feldman.

Feldman was unavailable to talk to The Jerusalem Post.

But in an interview he gave during the High Court battle over the censorship of the film, he said the allegations in the film might have been true.

"I say that I can't say they're not true," he told Haaretz. "Had someone asked me two years ago whether it was conceivable that the IDF would drop a one-ton bomb in the heart of Gaza city, I would have said no. Today, I believe anything is possible. Bakri doesn't say anything in this film. The people who talk are those he filmed. So the residents of the refugee camp say things which sometimes are true and sometimes not. It's a movie. It reflects the subjective understanding of the speakers. Sometimes they say things that are harsher [than they actually were] because that is how he experienced it. Sometimes the talk is based on rumors. It is known that in situations of tension, things are exaggerated. So sometimes it is not the truth."

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