Israeli Arab actor and filmmaker Mohammed Bakri attends the Dubai International Film Festival.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli-Arab film director and actor Mohammad Bakri should be prosecuted for visiting an enemy country after he participated in the “Palestine Days” festival in Beirut, Culture Minister Miri Regev wrote in a letter to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit Sunday.
“He has crossed a line, literally and figuratively,” Regev wrote, “visiting an enemy state and inciting against our state. I ask that you open an investigation and summon him immediately upon his arrival in Israel.”
On Saturday, the Hezbollah- affiliated Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar
put Bakri on its cover, quoting him as saying that “attempts at normalization with the Zionist enemy are on par with treason.” Bakri also reportedly said: “The fact that I am here in Lebanon is, in of itself, a victory over the racist Zionist entity.”
However, the director told Israeli-Arab media that he did not say many of those things and the accurate quotes were taken out of context.
Regev argued that the lack of a “determined response” from the authorities would legitimize Bakri’s actions and statements.
“Bakri, who is known for his contrarian views towards the State of Israel, his state, dared to call Arab states with ties to Israel traitors. He claims that Israel is the Zionist enemy, with whom any connection is treason,” she wrote.
Bakri told Channel 2 that he is “not afraid of Israelis, and especially not of Regev.”
Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen accused Regev of inciting against Arab citizens of Israel in an “ultranationalist provocative display.”
“Bakri spoke against the continued occupation, and that is what really bothers Regev,” Jabareen posited. “Regev’s populism harms culture, democracy and the delicate relations between Jews and Arabs in this country… She wants to prevent Arab artists from connecting to their natural cultural space in the Arab world.”
Jabareen added that it is the right of Israeli Arabs to develop cultural and social connections with the rest of the Arab world, and that a democracy cannot force a minority “to shake off its broader culture and the cultural space to which it belongs.”
Likud MK Oren Hazan tweeted that he plans to file a complaint with the police against Bakri “for treason against the State of Israel, due to his connections with Hezbollah, a crime that, according to the law, carries the death penalty.”
While the law does state that someone can be sentenced to death for treason, it was only invoked once, against Israeli soldier Meir Tobianski in a drumhead court martial in 1948.
The Israeli-Arab filmmaker reached infamy during the Second Intifada, after directing the film Jenin, Jenin
, about IDF actions in the Jenin Refugee Camp during Operation Defensive Shield, several days after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 30 people and injured 140 in the Park Hotel in Netanya during Passover 2002.
During the fighting in Jenin, 23 IDF soldiers and over 50 Palestinians were killed. Bakri interviewed Palestinians, who made unsubstantiated claims that a massacre took place, which were denied by international human rights organizations.
No one on the Israeli side was interviewed for the film.
A series of trials took place after the film’s release. The Israeli Film Ratings Board banned the film, calling it libelous, but the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem Cinematheques, as well as the Al-Midan Theater in Haifa still screened Jenin, Jenin
Bakri contested the ban at the Supreme Court, which overturned the decision, with then-justice Dalia Dorner saying: “The fact that the film includes lies is not enough to justify a ban.” The overturning of the ban was upheld after a 2004 appeal, though the court called it a “propagandistic lie.”
In addition, a group of IDF reservists who had fought in Jenin sued Bakri for defamation, but the case was dismissed, because they were not personally mentioned in the film. Still, the judge said Bakri had not acted in good faith by not backing up claims in the film.