Exclusive for Quds News: The creator of the film ‘Jenin, Jenin’ Mohamad Bakri: “My film was more written about than watched and the court’s ruling against it was political”

"As an artist, I can not dissociate from my Palestinian identity. I’m Palestinian, and this state defines itself as the state of the Jews. I’m not Jewish, therefore I and my art have no place in this state."

Late in last month, an Israeli court banned the documentary film “Jenin, Jenin” of the Palestinian filmmaker Mohammad Bakri. The film documents the events and the aftermath of the April 2002 Israeli siege and invasion of the Palestinian Refugee camp of Jenin, in the North of the West Bank. The decision gave conclusion to a lawsuit filed by Nissim Magnaji, an Israeli soldier who participated in the siege and invasion of Jenin. Magnaji claimed that he was portrayed in the film along with allegations of having stolen money from a Palestinian elderly from the camp. The court ruled, in addition to banning the film, a 175.000 shekel-fee against Bakri, as reparations to Magnaji.

The 8-day-long siege and battle of Jenin, and the following destruction of most of the camp’s surface by Israeli military bulldozers, were some of the most dramatic and influential events of the second Palestinian Intifada. They impacted the way Palestinians remember the Intifada and became a main point of inter-Palestinian debate over the narrative construction, between victimhood and resistance. Jenin was also one of the most influential events in building awareness and solidarity around the Palestinian cause world-wide, in the first decade of this century.

In an exclusive interview for Quds, Bakri spoke about the case in the Israeli court, where he explained that the Israeli persecution against him started since the release of the film in 2002. Bakri spoke to Quds about Israeli efforts to occult the film from international audiences, including pressure to international media to prevent the screening of “Jenin, Jenin”. Considering that the film has been more spoken and written about than watched, Bakri told Quds that he didn’t expect to find himself defending his film in court after all these years, Just as Palestinians still demanding their unfulfilled right to freedom. Bakri also spoke to Quds about his experience as a Palestinian artist in ‘Israel’, and how, based on his experience, the Israeli system and society treat Palestinians in general. Following is the full interview of Palestinian filmmaker Mohamad Bakri with Qassam Muaddi for Quds News:


– Mohamad Bakri, Why do you think this decision against your film came now, 18 years after it came out?

It is not a coincidence. Israeli elections are around the corner, and the government needs to agitate the right-wing to win votes. My case is a form of agitation of the public opinion among the Israeli right, and a form of propaganda for the government. Remember that it was the Israeli military censorship that began the first process against me and against my film, “Jenin, Jenin”, in 2002. Later it was a group of soldiers who sued me in 2005. Since then, persecution against me has never stopped. This decision is the latest episode of a long series of persecution.

– What motivated you to make the film in 2002 in the first place? And did you expect this kind of censorship, 18 years later?

I made the film as a contribution, by me, in my own way, to help put an end to the occupation. I wanted to help realize the aspirations of all Palestinians, which are also my aspirations, in achieving a free, independent Palestinian state. Therefore, I didn’t expect to find myself in this situation today. I simply did not expect Jenin and Palestine, in general, to continue to be occupied.

– When you remember Jenin, both the events and the film you made, what particular scene or story stands out?

None in particular. Everything I saw and heard in Jenin, I put in the film. And the film altogether, with all its stories, all the people who shared them, all its scenes, stayed with me dearly to this day. I can not single out a specific moment, a child, a woman, a demolished house or a tragic loss. They are all part of one big narrative, and they are all equally important. I can not put in words what specific message I take out of Jenin. If there is a message, it’s in the film. Watch it!

– The judge said that you didn’t check the facts of what happened in Jenin as you made the film. How do you respond to that?

I think the judge didn’t check the facts and the evidence that I provided. The Israeli judge should have investigated the factuality of the allegations made by the prosecution against me, which are all based on lies. I believe that the judge and the Israeli court are biased. I have no doubt of that, or of the fact that the sentence was prepared in advance. As I said, this sentence has a political function, linked to elections, and it does not seek justice. It is political.

– The court also sentenced you to 175.000 shekels reparations to the Israeli soldier Nissim Magnaji, who claims to be portrayed in the film. How do you react to that?

First of all, the soldier’s face does not appear in the film as he claims. It’s just not true. But the court is biased since the beginning and it sentenced in favor of the soldier despite the lack of evidence. I will not pay that reparation. I’ll soon appeal against the court’s sentence, because it is a political sentence that aims at intimidating Palestinian artists and film-makers, away from dealing with themes that criticize the government’s policy.

– Does the state of ‘Israel’ have a problem with Palestinian artists?

The state of ‘Israel’ has a problem with our existence as human beings, and I mean exactly what I say. It denies everything that is Palestinian. It denies Palestinian rights and Palestinian presence in this land. It denies what happened to Palestinians since 1948. It denies that our people were expelled from our land. It denies that Palestinians have a place on the map. It does not recognize us, Palestinians, at all. That includes Palestinian art of course. As an artist, I can not dissociate from my Palestinian identity. I’m Palestinian, and this state defines itself as the state of the Jews. I’m not Jewish, therefore I and my art have no place in this state.

– Is this the reason behind the rejection of your film “Jenin, Jenin”?

The Israeli audience didn’t even watch the film. But the Israeli refusal of the film went beyond the state of ‘Israel’. International audiences too, in their majority, didn’t watch it either. World-wide, the film was written about and discussed a great deal, but very little watched. Israeli and pro-Israeli pressure succeeded to keep the film away from large audiences. For instance, in 2003, the French-German channel Arte had scheduled the film to be broadcasted. Then suddenly, the day before the airing time, the channel called me and said that there had been pressure from pro-Israeli organizations and that they had called it off.

The Israeli pressure succeeded in effectively censoring the film “Jenin, Jenin” from millions of viewers on that occasion, and it was just one example. Most of what was written about the film was smearing it, and people read those smear claims without getting to watch the film themselves. At the same time, the film was banned in ‘Israel’, so Israelis didn’t refuse it for its content, but for what they thought about it and told the rest of the world about it, without actually watching it.

– Today, Palestinians disagree on how to remember the events of the Jenin refugee camp in 2002. Some continue to remember it for the massacre that took place, as a symbol of Palestinian victimood. Others prefer to remember it for the battle that the inhabitants of Jenin offered, as a last stand, symbolic of Palestinian resistance. How do you remember Jenin?

I see both aspects. The resistance of the people of Jenin was heroic. Despite the disparity, Palestinians in Jenin did not submit to the Israeli invasion. It wasn’t only the few men who actually fought the battle, the entire camp’s population that stood behind them.

At the same time, it was a massacre. The Israeli army committed crimes against civilians there, that can not be seen as part of the battle. Civilians who lost their lives, their homes and their beloved ones are victims. Both aspects are true, and one does not erase the other.

– Do you think that your film disturbed the way Israelis want to remember Jenin?

I don’t know how Israelis remember Jenin. You should ask them. But one thing is sure, they don’t like to hear the Palestinian narrative. It does make them uncomfortable indeed, to the point that they don’t even want to look at it. This is why they ban a film like mine and continue to attack it even after so many years.

– Have you lost hope?

No. I continue to believe in the way I chose. No matter how long it takes, the people will regain their rights. No matter how long the night is, the sun always ends up rising. It’s just the laws of history. Occupations around the world have always ended, and the Israeli occupation will end. Therefore I do not lose hope.

– From your own experience, what advice do give young Palestinian creators?

I advise them to preserve their identity. Don’t lose it, don’t hide it. It’s who you are, and it’s what makes your work unique.

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