Occupation Magazine: Judicial proceedings against Muhammad Bakri would be a severe Violation of the Freedom of Expression

Occupation Magazine, Vardit Shalfy and Rani Blair, May 14, 2012

Hundreds of Israeli cultural and intellectual personalities and concerned citizens wrote to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, calling upon him to reject the idea of prosecuting actor Muhammad Bakri over his film `Jenin, Jenin`.

Among those signing the petition: Anat Gov, Edna Mazya, Rennie Blair, Ohad Naharin, Orly Zilbershatz, Noa Dar, Shevi Gabison, Alon Ophir, Hillel Mittelpunkt, Savyon Liebrecht, Ofira Henig, David Ginton, Iris Le`al, Orly Lubin, Dina Riklis, Tzur Shezaf, Professor Avraham Oz, Tali Itzhaki, Ya`el Ronen and others. The signatories state that any such action – which the Attorney General is reported to be mulling – would constitute a severe and completely unwarranted violation of the Freedom of Expression in Israel.

The signatories further write: `We would like to remind you, Mr. Attorney-General, that the Supreme Court had deliberated on this issue several times, in different settings, and in all cases reached a decision not to take any action against Bakri and his film. A cloud of propaganda and emotional arguments has accumulated around this film, making it difficult to distinguish the salient facts. Mohammed Bakri had arrived in the city of Jenin in the immediate aftermath of its re-conquest by the IDF in 2002, collected testimonies of its residents, and included them in the film he made, with the intention of presenting them before the Israeli and international public. There is no evidence that any of the people whose testimonies were included in the film knowingly lied – and even if some testimonies are proven to be false, there is certainly no evidence that Bakri was aware of this when he included them in his film.

There is no doubt that Muhammad Bakri had not produced, nor claimed to produce, a `balanced` film expressing all divergent versions of what happened at Jenin in April 2002. He knowingly and explicitly made a film expressing the Palestinian point of view, and anyone coming to watch this film is well aware of it. There is no doubt that some IDF soldiers who fought in Jenin strongly disagree with the film`s presentation of events. They have the full and undoubted right to express their protest at Mohammad Bakri`s film and to do all they can to publicize and promote their own version of events; this, in fact, they did and go on doing, extensively. But in no way do they have the right to attempt silencing and wiping away the Palestinian version of events, so as to make their own version the one and only narrative which is `authorized` and allowed to circulate. It is highly unfitting that you, placed in charge of upholding the Rule of Law in Israel, would lend your office to any such attempt.

It is worth mentioning that in the State of Israel there have been published, and continue to be published, countless accounts – in books, films and many other forms – of past battles and incidents in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Often, such accounts are based solely on the testimonies of Israeli soldiers, without giving any place or attention to the version of Palestinians who were there. Obviously, in many such cases Palestinians might strongly object to the presentation of events in such books and films, even to the point of considering this presentation to be libelous of specific Palestinians and/or of Palestinians in general. Still, there is no known case in which such assertions have reached the Israeli courts in the form of a libel suit, against the filmmakers or the soldiers whose testimonies were published. Nor should this happen in the opposite direction.


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