Jenin, Jenin director Muhammad Bakri will not be charged by the state with libel, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz decided on Tuesday.
However, Mazuz stressed that he would attend a hearing on an appeal filed to the Supreme Court by representatives of former combat soldiers who took part in the IDF incursion into the Jenin refugee camp during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002.
The soldiers and families are appealing a ruling by the Petah Tikva District Court in June 2008, which had rejected their civil libel suit against Bakri, whose film accused IDF soldiers of war crimes.
"After looking into all the aspects of this issue, I have decided to attend the appeal of the district court's ruling in the civil lawsuit against Muhammad Bakri, taking the position that the [lower] court was wrong in rejecting the libel lawsuit, as the combatants have a right to a personal lawsuit and therefore, their appeal should be accepted," Mazuz wrote in a statement.
The district court agreed that the film was libelous, but ruled that the individual soldiers could not seek redress for libel committed against "an entire group." But Mazuz argued that since the film accused the IDF of war crimes and the soldiers who fought there could be found and identified, they indeed had the right to claim they had been personally slandered.
"I have concluded that given the circumstances, there is no room to take criminal measures against Bakri in accordance with Clause 4 of the law prohibiting libel... but [there is room for suing over] libel that constitutes slander, personally directed at and harming each and every one of the IDF soldiers who took part in the Jenin fighting."
Despite his decision not to have the state prosecute, it was clear that Mazuz opposed the movie and the "false claims" it makes.
In his statements, the attorney-general explained that "taking criminal measures on this matter might increase the interest in screening the movie and dealing with the false claims it raises, and could be perceived as impeding upon the freedom of expression and as harassment of the maker of the movie and of those who express criticism against the State of Israel (an allegation also made in the Goldstone report)."
The film Jenin, Jenin became a cause celebre when Bakri, an Israeli Arab actor and movie director, petitioned the High Court of Justice against the censor for prohibiting the screening of the film, which it did on 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 when the second intifada was still raging, and Palestinian suicide bombers were murdering Jews.
Furthermore, the army's incursion into the Jenin refugee camp had itself come in response to a spate of suicide attacks in March 2002, culminating in the attack on the Park Hotel in Netanya on Seder night, in which 30 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.
Dan Izenberg contributed to this report.