I did not do it because I was a hero, but only because I was compelled. This is how I made my three documentaries. I say compelled because I am an actor, not a director. Nevertheless I loved my three films as a father loves his children.
I was compelled because in these films I was merely a person defending his forbidden narrative (his unofficial narrative) because for 60 years Israel has been telling its narratives that deny and contradict my own. My first film, in 1998, was about 50 years since the Nakba. The second in 2002 titled Jenin, Jenin, was about the people of Jenin refugee camp in which they told what happened to them during the Israeli invasion in April 2002. The latest, titled Since you left, is about what happened to me and to us Palestinians since the passing of my friend and teacher, the late Palestinian author and intellectual Emile Habiby. In it I visit his grave in his beloved city of Haifa and speak to him friend to friend about all that happened since he died.
When Jenin, Jenin was released in 2002 it was banned by the Israeli film censorship board. Two years later I managed to get a license overturning the ban in the Israeli high court. Over the six years since 2002, five Israeli soldiers have dragged me through the courts, accusing me of lying, defamation and destroying their “good names.” They are demanding I pay 2.5 million shekels (USD 720,000) in damages!
These soldiers claim that they only took part in the invasion as reservists. But I do not know them and neither are they mentioned or shown in the film. They claim that Jenin, Jenin injured them and damaged their reputations!
Recently the court finally issued a decision rejecting their case. But among other things the court decision said that I could not prove that the film is truthful and that I should have dragged those who appeared in it to swear in an Israeli court that on screen they had stated the truth and nothing but the truth. The court also said that I lied when I said I made the film with good intentions; on the contrary, it said I made the film with bad intentions! But the court ruled that Israeli law protects me nonetheless because the defamation was against the whole Israeli army in general and not just those five soldiers!
My goodness, thank you O Israeli law! I ask — when an Israeli soldier opened fire on a theater-actress colleague of mine (Valentina Abu ‘Aqsa) what was I supposed to do? I am not a soldier to defend her with weapons. I found myself carrying my camera and going to Jenin refugee camp after the invasion. Did the soldier open fire because we were demonstrating against the invasion at the al-Jalma checkpoint north of Jenin?
Israel raised a storm about this film. It recruited all its ambassadors to combat it and prevent it from reaching the world’s screens. And it succeeded. With threats and pressure it succeeded in preventing the planned broadcast of the film on the on the Arte satellite channel that was scheduled for 1 April 2003.
Israel defamed my reputation on its screens, in its newspapers and from the podium of the Knesset, accusing me of terrorism. In the eyes of some I was no better than Bin Laden! I, who have been struggling for peace for 35 years? Take a look at my history and my films. Just watch Private, Beyond the Walls, Hanna K.,La masseria delle allodole, Cup Final, Haifa, The Pessoptimist, among others.
In addition to all that, the Zionist media empire produced dozens of films aimed in my direction and I did not go running to the courts. My only crime was to direct three films in response (hence I was compelled and not a hero). Israel released three films rebutting Jenin, Jenin and broadcast them in prime time. The first was Reservists’ Notebooks (in which appeared three of the five soldiers who brought the case against me). The second, The Road to Jenin by a French director who used a fake name: Pierre Rahuf. The third, by a Jewish Canadian director was titled Jenin: Massacring the Truth. These films were repeatedly broadcast to an Israeli population that was already deceived and brain-washed.
Meanwhile, my film remains banned and under attack to this day despite my winning in court three times — twice against Israeli censorship and the third time against five sacred cows.
Mohammad Bakri (http://www.mohammadbakri.com/) is an internationally-acclaimed actor, theater maker and director. He has won four best actor awards for leading roles in feature films at international festivals. He is a Palestinian citizen of Israel.
- Italian solidarity with Palestinian filmmaker on trial in Israel, Nicola Perugini (10 March 2008)
- Film review: “Private”, Arjan El Fassed (26 July 2005)
- Israeli film board bans “Jenin, Jenin”, Joshua Mitnick (1 January 2003)