Banning Jenin, Jenin Again: The Deliberate Erasure of Historical Narrative
February 28 2021

On January 11, screenings in Israel of Jenin, Jenin, a documentary film about the war crimes committed by Israeli soldiers in the occupied city of Jenin in 2002, were banned for the second time in 19 years.

Palestinian director Mohammed Bakri was charged with libel by the Lod district court following a lawsuit filed against him by an Israeli soldier, whose participation in the violence against Palestinians was featured in the film.

In 2003, the Israel Film Council banned the documentary, but the decision was reversed by Israel’s Supreme Court. The judgement cited that the ban “infring[ed] on freedom of expression.” In 2007, Bakri was once again brought to court for a defamation lawsuit filed by five Israeli soldiers. The case was rejected because the soldiers were not identifiable in the film. 

This was not the case for Israeli soldier Nissim Magnaji who is accused, on film, of stealing money from an elderly Palestinian man. Magnaji denied the act and filed a defamation lawsuit against Bakri in 2016. The ruling, made earlier this year, stated that Magnaji was “sent to defend his country and found himself accused of a crime he did not commit.” The court ordered Bakri to pay 175,000 shekels ($55,000) in damages to Magnaji and 50,000 shekels in court expenses. The court also banned the documentary in Israel and ordered that the film’s 24 copies be confiscated. The court also claimed that other featured events in the film were “lies”. Bakri has announced his intention to appeal the court’s decision.

“The essence of the issue is that I did not lie to anyone. I did not make up anything. These are the people’s testimonies,” Bakri told Fos-ha magazine earlier this month. “ It is their truth, this is what they felt and what they went through. Who has a monopoly on honesty? I want to prove that I did not lie.”

The film's banning is part of Israel’s long-standing efforts to distort and erase Palestinian history, conceal crimes and violence exercised against Palestinians, and maintain the myth that the Israeli army is a moral institution. This censorship, in the form of a defamation case, aims to silence Palestinian voices and propagate a false Israeli narrative. It also explicitly signals to Israeli soldiers and citizens that crimes committed against Palestinians will go unpunished and unaccounted for.


On April 3, 2002, Israel launched a military operation in the Jenin refugee camp. At the time, 14,000 Palestinians lived in the camp, most of whom were civilians.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a 52-page report, "Jenin: IDF Military Operations," after conducting on-the-ground research three weeks after the operation. The report states that camp residents were subjected to constant missile fire from helicopters hitting their homes. Palestinians attempted to escape to safety, but some were trapped in the crossfire, while others were forced to return to their homes. Israeli military forces also imposed a curfew that was enforced by snipers. In May 2002, HRW announced that Israeli soldiers killed 52 Palestinian civilians during the siege of Jenin, including children and people with disabilities.

Beyond the human toll, the damage inflicted on the camp's infrastructure was massive. The report indicates that at least 140 buildings were destroyed, and 200 others were rendered uninhabitable or unsafe. 4,000 Palestinians, more than a quarter of the camp's population, were made homeless. Water, sewage, and electrical infrastructure were also severely damaged.

Israeli forces intentionally targeted and executed civilians. They bulldozed the house of Jamal Fayid, a thirty-seven-year-old paralyzed man, with him inside, crushing his body. His family was not allowed to remove him from the house. Sixty-five-year-old Muhammad Abu Saba`a pleaded with an Israeli bulldozer operator to stop demolishing his home while his family remained inside. An Israeli soldier shot him dead while he walked towards his ruined house. A missile killed fifty-eight-year-old Mariam Wishahi while in her home hours after her son was executed in the street. Jamal al-Sabbagh was also killed while in Israeli custody - he was obeying orders to strip off his clothes.

Soldiers also used Palestinians as human shields. According to Kamal Tawalbi, the soldiers kept him and his fourteen-year-old son for three hours exposed to fire, using their shoulders to rest their rifles as they fired. 

The report accused Israel of committing war crimes and violating international humanitarian law.

Israeli forces not only killed Palestinians, but they actively prevented them from seeking medical assistance. According to another report by Amnesty International, "ambulances of the PRCS and ICRC were allowed into the refugee camp for the first time on April 15, 2002.” From April 3 to April 15, Palestinians trapped in the camp were left to fend for themselves.   


Bakri's film gives voice to Palestinian eyewitnesses who lived through the Israeli bombardment. After the army withdrew from Jenin, Bakri, a native Palestinian from Bi’ina, spent two weeks listening to stories narrated by Palestinians, producing a 53-minute-long documentary.

The film provides us with a repository of images and stories, capturing the emotional and physical pain Palestinians endured and the material destruction of their livelihoods. It challenges the dominant narrative about the civility of the Israeli state and the morality of its army.

The documentary begins with an elderly Palestinian man questioning why international regulations are applied to Palestinians but not to Israel? Another man says that his family was displaced in 1948 and again in 1967 and poses the question, “where do we go now? We’ve been through three Nakba[s]… enough.” A girl explains what the refugee camp means to her and vows to rebuild it. Interviewed Palestinians also tell stories of  how Israeli soldiers stole their money, urinated in their cooking pots, and even shot stray cats.  

The banning of Jenin, Jenin by the Israeli Supreme Court is not an anomaly. The documentary’s banning should be situated within the context of deliberate erasure of Palestinian voices, memories, and history.

Jenin, Jenin has been made available to be viewed here.

About The Author: 

Samar Saeed is a PhD candidate in the History Department at Georgetown University. 

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