'Jenin, Jenin': A modern day blood libel

MIDDLE ISRAEL: Weapons that were aimed for centuries at our forebears had been unearthed, and were now being aimed at us.

FILMMAKER MOHAMMED Bakri is seen in the district court in Lod in December 2017 as part of the libel suit against his movie ‘Jenin, Jenin.’ (photo credit: FLASH90)
FILMMAKER MOHAMMED Bakri is seen in the district court in Lod in December 2017 as part of the libel suit against his movie ‘Jenin, Jenin.’
(photo credit: FLASH90)
It used to be free of charge.
Czar Nikolai’s secret service was never sued for brewing The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’s fantasy about a Jewish plot to conquer the world, and Joseph Goebbels was never tried for concocting filmic atrocities Suss the Jew, The Rothschilds, and The Wandering Jew, which educated millions to fear, hate and wage war on the Jews.
That is why filmmaker Mohammed Bakri, whose pseudo-documentary Jenin, Jenin was a variation on those antisemitic themes, assumed he too could defame the Jews with impunity.
This week – following a 19-year courtroom saga – that assumption collapsed in what looms as a milestone in the Jewish people’s war on its most ancient, lethal and elusive enemy: the blood libel.
RELEASED IN 2002 and relating to that year’s battle against the suicide bombers who nested among Jenin’s inhabitants, the film’s distortion of the documentary medium is breathtaking.
Documentaries generally fall into two legitimate categories: the ones that try to be objective and the ones that don’t.
Nature series like The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau or David Attenborough’s The World About Us, antagonized no one. Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story, on the other hand, was a diatribe against America’s moneyed elite, accusing it of having betrayed the working class, and also suggesting that capitalism contradicts Christianity.
Moore’s type of documentary, in other words, was not out to entertain, but to annoy, an aim he clearly achieved. However, it was still a documentary because he did not invent facts. When he showed an abandoned auto plant in Michigan and lamented its employees’ fate, the plant had indeed existed, and thousands who once worked in it had indeed lost their livelihoods.
That is not what Bakri did.
In his film, a battlefield where the UN counted 52 Palestinian fatalities becomes a Gettysburg type of blood field strewn with “thousands” of dead Palestinians. Citing aerial bombardments in a battle where there were no airplanes at all, the film tells of a mass grave that Israeli troops ostensibly dug for their “victims” – a gravesite Bakri did not even seek, let alone find, just like his film did not show a hospital wing it claimed the IDF destroyed, because that wing, like that grave, never existed.
Most fantastically, one “interviewee” claimed to have saved the life of a baby punctured by a bullet that, he claimed, entered from the chest and emerged from the back. The man claimed to have saved the baby by using his finger to open the airway in the infant’s throat. Israeli troops, the man then blood-libeled, prevented the baby’s evacuation to a hospital, and thus caused the baby’s death.
“Who was that baby?” asked Dr. David Zangen, the senior medical officer in the battle, when we discussed those events in his office in Hadassah-University Medical Center, where he treats diabetic children. “What is the baby’s name? None of us down in the field ran into a baby with such an injury, and the reason is that there never was such a baby, just like no baby can survive a bullet’s passage through the chest, nor can a baby’s blocked airway be opened with a finger.”
Letting loose pedestrians’ imaginations, the filmmaker did not even begin to seek the facts, failing to debrief even one Israeli official, reporter, scholar, general, captain or private.
“There was no massacre in Jenin,” asserted the High Court of Justice (Ruling 316/03, March 20, 2003). The Palestinians who died in the battle, wrote Justice Ayala Procaccia, were mostly fighters, the hospital mentioned in the film contained terrorists, and the soldiers “took caution to obey instructions not to harm the hospital, or enter it, or shoot in its direction.”
On the contrary, the troops “supplied the hospital with a generator, water, electricity and oxygen,” and “made special efforts to treat the injured and ill among the Palestinians and enabled them to receive medical assistance.” In all, “257 casualties were evacuated to a hospital in Jenin and 60 injured and ill to hospitals in Israel.”
A claim about an Israeli armored personnel carrier having run over people was ruled “patently unfounded,” as were stories about children deliberately murdered, and a story about a Palestinian who was caught, cuffed, and shot from a short distance. Instead, Palestinian terrorists “used children to scatter explosives.” Bakri’s confusion of children and adults was such that one Munir Washihi, whom the film described as “a child,” turned out to be a 19-year-old Hamas fighter.
Perhaps most maliciously, Bakri added a gunshot’s sound to footage that showed a man being taken away from a row of Palestinians lying on the ground. “That created the mistaken impression that someone was executed there,” he ultimately admitted (“Mohammed Bakri: I made a terrible mistake in ‘Jenin, Jenin,’” Haaretz, February 23, 2005).
SADLY, BAKRI’S admission of professional malpractice has yet to be followed by moral introspection. Perhaps that will also arrive someday. This week, however, a court banned the film’s screening and fined its producer.
The ruling took this long to emerge because the petitioners originally did not identify a specific person as the defamation’s victim. Now they have. Exposed and also fined, Bakri has now learned that blood-libeling Jews is no longer what it used to be. It costs.
Middle Israelis used to dismiss antisemitism as the Diaspora’s problem. That changed in 2001, when thousands marched in Durban, South Africa, accusing us of “systematic perpetration of genocide” during the very days when we were shielding our children from suicide bombers.
We thus understood that the weapon that was aimed for centuries at our forebears had been unearthed, and was now being aimed at us. Yes, the weapon, its ammunition and marksmen are much the same as those our ancestors faced. The targets, however, have changed.
Israelis will not be libeled with impunity. As Mohammed Bakri can now attest, Israelis are not Dr. Goebbels’s Wandering Jew. They fight.
The writer’s bestselling Mitzad Ha’ivelet Ha’yehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sefarim, 2019), is a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s leadership from antiquity to modernity.