On January 11, the Israeli Lod District Court ruled against a Palestinian filmmaker,
Mahmoud Bakri, ordering him to pay hefty compensation to an Israeli soldier
who was accused, along with the Israeli military, of carrying out war crimes
in April 2002, in the Palestinian Jenin refugee camp located in the northern
occupied West Bank.
The case, as presented by Israeli and other media, seemed to deal with typical
legal matters such as defamation of character and so on. To those familiar with
the massive clash of narratives which emanated from that singular event, known
to Palestinians as the “Jenin Massacre”, the Israeli court verdict is not only
political but historical and intellectual, as well.
Bakri, a native Palestinian born in the village of Bi’ina, near the Palestinian
city of Akka, now located in Israel, has been
paraded repeatedly in Israeli courts and
censured heavily in Israeli mainstream media simply because he dared
challenge the official discourse on the violent events which transpired in the
Jenin refugee camp nearly two decades ago.
Bakri’s documentary, Jenin Jenin, is now officially banned in Israel.
The film, which was produced only months after the conclusion of this particular
episode of Israeli violence, did not make many claims of its own. It largely
opened up a rare space for Palestinians to convey, in their own words, what
had befallen their refugee camp when large units of the Israeli army, under
the protection of fighter jets and attack helicopters, pulverized much of the
camp, killing scores and wounding hundreds.
To ban a film, regardless of how unacceptable it may seem from the viewpoint
of the official authorities, is wholly inconsistent with any true definition
of freedom of speech. But to ban Jenin Jenin, to indict the Palestinian
filmmaker and to financially compensate those accused of carrying out war crimes,
The background of the Israeli decision can be understood within two contexts:
one, Israel’s regime of
censorship aimed at silencing any criticism of the Israeli occupation
and apartheid and, two, Israel’s fear of a truly independent Palestinian narrative.
Israeli censorship dates back to the very inception of the State of Israel
atop the ruins of the Palestinian homeland in 1948. The country’s founding fathers
had painstakingly constructed a convenient story regarding the birth of Israel,
almost entirely erasing Palestine and the Palestinians from their historical
narrative. On this, late Palestinian intellectual, Edward Said, wrote in his
Permission to Narrate, “the Palestinian narrative has never been
officially admitted to Israeli history, except as that of ‘non-Jews,’ whose
inert presence in Palestine was a nuisance to be ignored or expelled.”
To ensure the erasure of the Palestinians from the official Israeli discourse,
Israeli censorship has evolved to become one of the most elaborate and well-guarded
schemes of its kind in the world. Its degree of sophistication and brutality
has reached the extent that poets and artists can be tried in court and
sentenced to prison for merely confronting Israel’s founding ideology,
Zionism, or penning poems that may seem offensive to Israeli sensibilities.
While Palestinians have borne the greatest brunt of the ever-vigilant Israeli
censorship machine, some Israeli Jews, including human rights organizations,
suffered the consequences.
But the case of Jenin Jenin is not that of routine censorship. It is
a statement, a message, against those who dare give voice to oppressed Palestinians,
allowing them the opportunity to speak directly to the world. These Palestinians,
in the eyes of Israel, are certainly the most dangerous, as they demolish the
layered, elaborate, yet fallacious official Israeli discourse, regardless of
the nature, place or timing of any contested event, starting with the “Catastrophe”
Nakba of 1948.
Almost simultaneously with the release of Jenin Jenin, my first book,
Searching Jenin: Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion, was published.
The book, like the documentary, aimed to counterbalance official Israeli propaganda
through honest, heart-rending accounts of the survivors of the refugee camp.
While Israel had no jurisdiction to ban the book, pro-Israeli media and mainstream
academics either ignored it completely or ferociously attacked it.
Admittedly, the Palestinian counter-narrative to the Israeli dominant narrative,
whether on the “Jenin Massacre” or the Second Palestinian Intifada, was humble,
largely championed through individual efforts. Still, even such modest attempts
at narrating a Palestinian version were considered dangerous, vehemently rejected
as irresponsible, sacrilegious or anti-Semitic.
Israel’s true power – but also Achilles heel – is its ability to design, construct
and shield its own version of history, despite the fact that such history is
hardly consistent with any reasonable definition of the truth. Within this modus
operandi, even meager and unassuming counter-narratives are threatening, for
they poke holes in an already baseless intellectual construct.
Bakri’s story of Jenin was not relentlessly attacked and eventually banned
as a mere outcome of Israel’s prevailing censorship tactics, but because it
dared blemish Israel’s diligently fabricated historical sequence, starting with
a persecuted “people with no land” arriving at a supposed “land
with no people”, where they “made the desert bloom”.
Jenin Jenin is a microcosm of a people’s narrative that successfully
shattered Israel’s well-funded propaganda, sending a message to Palestinians
everywhere that even Israel’s falsification of history can be roundly defeated.
In her seminal book, “Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous
Peoples”, Linda Tuhiwai Smith brilliantly examined the relationship between
history and power, where she
asserted that “history is mostly about power”.
“It is the story of the powerful and how they became powerful, and then
how they use their power to keep them in positions in which they can continue
to dominate others,” she wrote. It is precisely because Israel needs to
maintain the current power structure that Jenin Jenin and other Palestinian
attempts at reclaiming history have to be censored, banned and punished.
Israel’s targeting of the Palestinian narrative is not a mere official contestation
of the accuracy of facts or of some kind of Israeli fear that the “truth” could
lead to legal accountability. Israel hardly cares about facts and, thanks to
Western support, it remains immune from international prosecution. Rather, it
is about erasure; erasure of history, of a homeland, of a people.
A Palestinian people with a coherent, collective narrative will always exist
no matter the geography, the physical hardship and the political circumstances.
This is what Israel fears most.
Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle.
He is the author of five books. His latest is These
Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance
in Israeli Prisons (Clarity Press). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research
Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) and also at the Afro-Middle
East Center (AMEC). His website is