AMY GOODMAN: Acclaimed Palestinian actor and director Mohammad Bakri is one of Israel's most well-known citizens. He's acted in over a dozen films made by Israeli and international directors, including Hanna K. by Costa-Gavras, and is well-known as a stage actor and director. But since producing a documentary on Israel's 2002 assault on the West Bank town of Jenin, Bakri has found himself virtually blacklisted in Israeli cinema, and now he even faces possible jail time for making the film.
In April 2002, the Israeli military killed fifty-two Palestinians, flattened over 150 buildings and closed off the camp for weeks. Several human rights groups accused Israel of committing war crimes. United Nations suspended its fact-finding mission after Israel refused to allow them entry.
Bakri's documentary Jenin, Jenin was one of the first to tell the stories of the town's residents during the Israeli assault.
JENIN RESIDENT: [translated] No one in the world has committed such atrocities. They demolished the houses over the children's heads. They come with their tanks and F16 planes to fight against stone-throwers. How can you explain this? The world continues to turn a deaf ear. This is unfair.
AMY GOODMAN: A resident of Jenin, the refugee camp there, from the film Jenin, Jenin. Despite receiving international acclaim, the film was initially banned in Israel until a reversal by the Israeli Supreme Court. Mohammad Bakri was then sued by five Israeli soldiers who were part of the military operation in Jenin. They alleged Bakri falsified information about them. The trial is set to begin next month.
In addition to Jenin, Jenin, Bakri is the director of 1948 and, most recently, Since You Left. Earlier this week, Mohammad Bakri joined me here in the firehouse studio. I asked him how he came to make the film Jenin, Jenin.
MOHAMMAD BAKRI: Unfortunately, sometimes you are forced to do things that you didn't program to do. I’m an actor. I never thought that I am going to make a documentary. My profession is an actor on the screen and on the stage.
During the invasion on the camp, Jenin, which started on the 29 of March, 2002, I was playing in the theater, and I had made a play by Llorca. And things were -- many wrong things were happening in the West Bank, including Jenin, the camp. So we were, a lot of people, hundreds of people, Jews and Arab Israelis, who were demonstrating. We were demonstrating on the checkpoint of the north checkpoint of Jenin, the camp, with slogans like “Stop the War,” “Stop the Massacre,” “Stop” -- all kinds of peace slogans. And suddenly an Israeli soldier veered, passed over, looked at us in very bad eyes, pulled his gun, M-16, and started shooting at us. My colleague was an actor in my play, in the same play we were doing together, was shot. All his hand exploded.
And it drove me mad, because I thought to myself, if this soldier behaved like this with us, citizens, just citizens who are demonstrating, how he behaves inside the camp Jenin? In the same moment, I thought to myself, I must go there and make a film about what's going on, because nobody knew what's going on. Everybody thought that many wrong things happening there in the camp, crime.
So after two weeks -- maybe less than two weeks -- when the invasion was finished, I sneaked with the cameraman and with soundman, and I shot four days, nonstop shooting, just shooting everything I saw. I shot the houses. I shot the people. And the people were very, very -- they wanted to tell their stories, because they were still in shock. When I came in Jenin, I was shocked with what I saw. I couldn't think. I couldn't feel. I was really just humiliated as a human being, not as a Palestinian, not as a director, not as an actor, just as a human. How come people can do such things like that in the camp? So I shot the people and just filmed everything. And I met many people -- young, old, women, children -- and I just put the camera on and said, “What happened?” I didn't ask anything, just “What happened?” And everybody was telling nonstop stories about what he felt, what he saw, what he had. And the film was banned in Israel.
AMY GOODMAN: On what grounds?
MOHAMMAD BAKRI: It was banned. They say that this film is one-sided, one-sided point of view; the film is a propaganda; it is made by terror, supporting terror, supported by terror. And, you know, I’m a very famous actor in Israel. I made many films. My film Beyond the Walls, 1984, represented Israel in the American Oscar, so I’m very known, well-known actor and respected actor, in Israel. And suddenly I became like bin Laden in their point of view. They just massacred me in the media, all kinds, internet, TV, newspaper.
And, you know, suddenly I felt betrayed. I am a good citizen. I’m working in theater, in Israeli theater. I work in many plays and many films. And all my films are talking about coexistence and love and peace and dreams about a real good solution for everybody. I have no problem with Israelis or the Jews. I have no problem with Israel as a state. I have a problem with the occupation. And my film was against the occupation. So, until now, I am paying the price.
I know what scares me, that I ask myself -- they are pretending that Israel is the only democratic state in the Middle East. OK, right, fine. So why they are doing this if we are living in a democracy? You can imagine that if Michael Moore make a film here in America, he will be in prison or he’ll by soldiers or by Marines or by the government? He made many films here in America, and I saw all his films, and it’s all of them against the mainstream. And he wasn't punished. He's not paying the price. He's a very famous and very rich man and very successful. So, I mean, where is the democracy in Israel?
AMY GOODMAN: Mohammad Bakri, I’m looking at a BBC News report saying five Israeli reserve soldiers suing an Israeli Arab film director they accuse of libeling troops who fought in the battle for the Jenin refugee camp, they accuse Mohammad Bakri of libelously portraying them and their comrades as war criminals in the film Jenin, Jenin, which was recently banned in Israel. The soldiers are also suing two Israeli cinemas which screened it after its October release, demanding about half-a-million dollars. One of the reservists told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, “We received an emergency call-up order, went out to fight, in order to defend our homes. We fought slowly, day after day, in order to avoid harming the civilian population. This film portrays us as war criminals.” Your response?
MOHAMMAD BAKRI: I know that under the name, under the slogan “fighting the terror,” the are fighting their homeland. They are not fighting their homeland. They are fighting for the settlements. They are fighting to defend the occupation. They mustn't be there. They mustn’t be in the West Bank. They mustn’t be in Gaza. This land was occupied in 1967. So I don't accept this as the Palestinian terror.
And I am against all the suicide bombing, which happens all over the world, not only in Palestine. I’m a human being, and I think that this is not the right thing to do. This is not human to punish innocent people, wherever they are.
But in the same time, when this happened, the Israel army is punishing the whole Palestinian community, and the people who are here usually are the innocent people. So this is not the right way. This is not the right way to fight against occupation, by suicide bombing. But this is not the right way also to fight the terrorists, by this, by demolishing the whole houses and by that very cruel invasion...
Full interview: http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=07/06/22/1458237