Screening of 'Jenin, Jenin' film prohibited in Israel, Lod court rules

The court also decided that Israeli-Arab film director and actor Mohammad Bakri will pay IDF Lt.-Col. Nissim Meganji NIS 175,000 as compensation for defamation.

Israeli Arab actor and filmmaker Mohammed Bakri attends the Dubai International Film Festival (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli Arab actor and filmmaker Mohammed Bakri attends the Dubai International Film Festival
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Lod District Court on Monday ruled that screening and distributing the controversial film Jenin, Jenin in Israel is prohibited and ordered Israeli-Arab film director and actor Mohammad Bakri – the man behind the documentary – to pay IDF Lt.-Col. Nissim Meganji NIS 175,000 as compensation for defamation.
Jenin, Jenin critically covers IDF operations in the Battle of Jenin that took place in 2002, when IDF troops entered the refugee camp during the Second Intifada in an effort to expose and eliminate terrorist cells that were actively and regularly carrying out terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians.
In 2003, the Film Review Council banned the movie in Israel but the High Court of Justice later reversed the decision. In 2007, the film reached the court again, when five former IDF soldiers sued Bakri for defamation, a claim that the court rejected at the time, stating that the soldiers could not be identified as individuals in the film.
Unlike in that previous lawsuit, the Lod court found that Lt.-Col. Meganji, who played an active part in the 2002 IDF Operation Defensive Shield in Jenin, could clearly be seen in footage used in Bakri’s film.
“The plaintiff, a private person who was called by the State of Israel to a military service during Operation Defensive Shield, finds himself being presented in the film in question, as someone who steals the entire property of another person – a helpless old person – as part of an alternative reality, completely the product of the defendant’s imagination,” Judge Halit Silash said.
The judge accused Bakri of “not checking, even slightly, the claims of the people he interviewed, but chose to present them as part of a film presuming to reflect facts and reality.” The indictment also noted that Bakri failed to present any evidence that supported the claims that he made in his film.
The decision drew much attention in Israel, considering the controversial nature of the film in the Israeli-Palestinian context and its long legal history.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi welcomed the ruling as a “just decision.” He talked on Tuesday with the leaders of the campaign against the movie and told them that the court sent a clear message that shows that it backs the soldiers of the past, the present, and the future – and shows support for the bereaved families. Twenty-three soldiers died in the operation.
In July, Kochavi addressed the film during a speech given at a graduation ceremony, criticizing its twisted portrayal of soldiers who fought during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002. Kochavi said at the time that “we can’t allow the freedom of expression to allow debasement, and to strip our soldiers from their means of defense.”
Culture and Sport Minister Chili Tropper congratulated the court for its ruling, noting the importance of honoring the freedom of speech but drawing redlines when necessary.
“I congratulate the Lod District Court for standing alongside IDF soldiers and the values of integrity and truth,” Tropper said. “Freedom of speech is a central value in a democratic state and I will protect it as much as I can, but the freedom of speech does not allow inventing false plots and slander.”
And while some politicians, such as New Hope Party leader Gideon Sa’ar, also expressed their satisfaction with the decision, others heavily criticized it.
Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman attacked the court and accused it of silencing discussion.
“An occupation protected by the court,” she said. “The film Jenin, Jenin has exposed the true wicked and criminal face of the occupation. Not only the government, but now a District Court as well tries to silence and conceal it. Mohammad Bakri knowingly fought against the odds, and we will continue to support him and the Palestinian people, fighting the occupation and oppression,” she added.
Udi Shaham contributed to this report.