From Socialist Voice, October 2007

Film review

An indictment of the world’s indifference

Jenin Jenin (2002), directed by Mohammad Bakri

It’s not often we hear of film censorship nowadays, but this film has been banned in its country of origin and is at present the subject of a court case in Israel.

     The Israeli censorship board said it would upset the public and might lead Israelis “to mistakenly think that IDF [Israeli Defence Force] soldiers are systematically and intentionally carrying out war crimes.”
     Israeli citizens might think just that if they were to read reports by human rights groups on what happened in the Jenin refugee camp in April 2002; and in fact the decision was made to make this film because of the UN’s backing down on a planned investigation into the Israeli army’s actions in the area.
     The camp’s inhabitants are given a voice, and in relating their accounts of what they lived through their expressions change from grim determination to sorrow and pain at the suffering they endured and witnessed.
     A man in his forties declares that they will fight on no matter what the Israelis do to them. Later he hesitates, then, inhaling deeply on his cigarette, looks down, remembering, and states, as he wipes the tears away: “You know how they hurt us most? It was not destroying the houses with their bulldozers and how they killed so many of us: it was when we could not go to a dying man while he was bleeding to death; it was when we could not return a crying child to his parents . . .” (One of the accusations levelled at the Israeli forces by human rights groups was that soldiers deliberately held medics back from attending the wounded until they had bled to death.)
     The scenes of mountains of rubble in what had been streets were stark. A girl of ten or twelve speaks into the camera with conviction, stating that it is the soldiers who are cowards, even with all their superior military equipment, and that although she had been afraid at first of the sound of the bombs, now she was used to it and she would never be afraid again. “Palestinians will have more children, and we will go on fighting,” she declares; but we can see that behind her bravado this is a traumatised child whose faith in goodness has been demolished along with the walls of the destroyed houses. For her there is no meaning to life but a bitter fight against a mighty enemy, and the bleak and brutal future she faces is an indictment of the world’s indifference, which only prolongs and intensifies the conflict.
     “Operation Defensive Shield” was the name given to this horror by the IDF, an army that has illegally occupied Palestinian lands for decades; and it was to defend their reputation that five Israeli soldiers took Mohammad Bakri, who directed the film, to court. They accuse him of libellously portraying them in his film as war criminals; this is despite the fact that not one of them is shown in the film, or even mentioned by name.
     What comes through strongly from all the people interviewed is the depth to which they feel they have been abandoned by the rest of the world. A man in a busy market-place entertains the crowd with his impromptu stand-up, making a phone call to George Bush and Kofi Annan on his “mobile phone” —his shoe. “What! You couldn’t come to Jenin because you couldn’t get a plane? You couldn’t afford the flight? We could have collected some money for you! We would give you a donkey, or a mule!”
     The Arab world also stood by and continues to trade with Israel, and Palestinians know it. The people of Jenin know it. Although the Israeli army and its government continue to deny any wrongdoing, the people of Jenin know what happened, and it will be interesting to see the result of this court case.
     In November 2003 the Israeli Supreme Court lifted the ban on Jenin Jenin, ruling that Israel’s Film Board had infringed on freedom of expression “above and beyond what was necessary.” Which is what the whole operation in Jenin seems to have been.
Jenin Jenin is dedicated to Iyad Samudi, the producer of the film, who was shot and killed by Israeli forces on 23 June 2002.
[MNM]

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