Top court rejects soldiers’ appeal over ‘Jenin Jenin’

Judges rule controversial film about IDF's operations in Jenin during Operation Defensive Shield was "not slanderous" against any one soldier.

IDF soldiers near Gaza border 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen)
IDF soldiers near Gaza border 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen)
The Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed an appeal by five soldiers in a lawsuit against “Jenin Jenin” filmmaker Mohammed Bakri.
Ofer Ben-Natan, Doron Keidar, Nir Oshri, Adam Arbiv and Yonatan Van-Kaspel originally sued Israeli Arab actor and director Muhammad Bakri in 2003 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.
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All of the five soldiers fought in Jenin during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002.
The five filed an appeal to the Supreme Court after the Petah Tikva District Court dismissed their libel suit against Bakri.
Bakri filmed the documentary in Jenin during the fighting in 2002. He interviewed residents of Jenin but not any Israeli officials.
The film, released in the middle of the intifada, touched a raw nerve among Israelis.
The army’s incursion into the Jenin refugee camp had occurred 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.
Shortly after the film’s release, it was banned by the Israeli Film Board on the grounds that it only showed one side of the story and that it was slanderous.
The five soldiers’ lawsuit included 13 incidents it describes as libel, including a section of the film that had been edited to give the impression that a bulldozer had run over a group of Palestinians lying on the ground.
In dismissing the suit, the judges ruled that even though Bakri’s film was “full of things that are not true” and even though it was hurtful to the feelings of the five soldiers, there was no provision under the law for them to bring a civil claim against Bakri because the film made reference to the IDF’s operations in Jenin as a whole and not to any specific soldier.
“Attributing acts such as those described in the film to IDF soldiers are some of the worst accusations that can be thrown at someone. It puts them on a par with the very worst war criminals and the very worst murderers. The allegations in the film are very severe and cannot be underestimated,” wrote Judges Miriam Naor, Yitzhak Amit and Yoram Danziger.
“In the final analysis, it is my belief that a reasonable person viewing the film would not recognize any slander against any single soldier belonging to the group of soldiers fighting in Jenin.”
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.