I was present at a private viewing of the film "Jenin, Jenin", by Muhammad Bakri, at the Jerusalem Cinematheque. The limited audience included Lia van Leer, Director of the Cinematheque, and some journalists. At the end of the screening, I reacted by pointing out, one by one, the lies and lack of truth shown in the film. One of the participants responded furiously, "if you cannot accept the facts in the film, you apparently do not understand anything, and how can you be a doctor?" For a moment I forgot that I had been in Jenin last April, serving in the capacity of doctor for IDF forces in the area, while this esteemed viewer's information came, at best, from rumors. Bakri has woven together lies and half-truths so skillfully that it is difficult to withstand the temptation to be drawn into the distorted picture he has created.
I failed to convince the Cinematheque's management to cancel the screening. I was told that the images of destroyed houses are authentic and that, therefore, there is truth in the film, and that anyway, the film will be screened throughout the world. I was nevertheless invited to the film's Jerusalem premiere, and I went, so that I could use the opportunity to explain my position to the audience. Following are some of the points that I had hoped to raise.
1. The director of the hospital in Jenin, Dr. Abu-Rali, claims in the film that the western wing of the hospital was shelled and destroyed, and that the IDF purposely disrupted the supply of water and electricity to the hospital. The truth is that there never was such a wing and, in any case, no part of the hospital was shelled or bombed.
Indeed, IDF soldiers were careful not to enter the hospital grounds, even though we knew that they were being used to shelter wanted persons. We maintained the supply of water, electricity and oxygen to the hospital throughout the course of the fighting, and helped set up an emergency generator after the electricity grid in the city was damaged.
Bakri himself is seen in the film wandering around the clean, preserved corridors of the hospital, but not in the "bombed" wing. I met him outside the auditorium and asked him if he had visited the western wing. At first he said no, and then immediately corrected himself. "Just a minute, you remember the glass that broke in the film - that was from there."
It is important to note that Abu-Rali is one of the "authorized sources" on which the claim of a "massacre" is based. At the beginning of the operation, he was interviewed on the TV station Al-Jazeera and spoke of "thousands of casualties."
2. Another impressive segment of the film is an interview with a 75-year-old resident of Jenin who, crying bitterly, testified that he had been taken from his bed in the middle of the night and shot in the hand, and, when he failed to obey the soldiers' orders to get up, was shot again in the foot.
This same elderly man was brought to me for treatment after a clean-up operation in one of the houses used by a Hamas cell in the refuge camp. He had indeed sustained a slight injury to the hand and suffered from light abrasions on his leg (although certainly not a bullet wound). IDF soldiers brought him to the station for treating the wounded, and there he was treated, including by me.
One of the army doctors diagnosed heart failure, and we immediately offered to transfer him for treatment to the "Emek" Hospital in Afula. He requested to be treated at the hospital in Jenin since he was not fluent in Hebrew. After the Jenin hospital refused to admit him, we transferred him to Afula. He was in the internal medicine ward for three days and received treatment for heart problems and anemia, from which he suffered as a result of an existing chronic disease.
3. Another interviewee told the story of a baby hit by a bullet that penetrated the baby's chest, passed through its body and created a large exit wound in its back. According to the information supplied in the film, the baby died after soldiers prevented his evacuation to hospital. However, the baby's body was never found. Furthermore, if such a wound had been in fact inflicted, it would have certainly been fatal, and evacuation to hospital would not have saved the baby's life. What was the baby's name? What happened to the body?
4. The same person also claimed that he used his finger to open an airway in a child's neck after he was wounded. Again, this is a total fabrication. It is impossible to perform such an operation with one's finger. This "witness" also told how tanks rolled over people, again and again, crushing them alive - this, too, never happened.
5. The film mentions mass graves in which the IDF put the Palestinians who were killed. All of the international organizations that investigated this matter are in agreement that a total of 52 Palestinians were killed in Jenin, and their bodies were turned over to the Palestinians for burial. Bakri did not even bother to show the location of these so-called mass graves.
6. The film claims that Israeli planes bombed the city. This is untrue. In order to avoid civilian casualties, only accurate gunfire from helicopters was used.
7. Another point worth noting is that Bakri was not in Jenin during the operation; he arrived two weeks after its conclusion. The destroyed area in the center of the city was filmed in such a way as to appear substantially bigger than it really was, and the posters of "martyrs" and Jihad slogans that covered the walls during the operation were all gone.
The film repeatedly manipulates visual images, showing tanks that had been photographed in other places juxtaposed artificially with pictures of Palestinian children. This is crude, albeit well-done, manipulation.
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At the end of the screening, the hundreds of viewers awarded Bakri and the editor of the film with thunderous applause. Bakri turned to the audience and asked if there were any questions. I introduced myself, ascended the stage and began to systematically list all the lies and inaccuracies in the film.
At first, there was a rustle in the crowd, and then boos and I was called a "murderer", "war criminal" and the like. Before I had even finished my second point, a man from the audience aggressively ascended the stage and tried to grab the microphone from my hand. I decided not to be dragged into violence. I let him take the microphone and walked off the stage. I was surprised that only a few spectators rose to the defense of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. I was amazed that the audience was not willing to hear the facts from someone who had physically been there.
It was painful for me as a man, a father and a doctor to hear calls of "murderer" from my own people. I said that I hadn't murdered anyone, but the calls intensified. A powerful hatred was directed towards me. I had an unpleasant feeling that I haven't been able to shake.
I do not regret going to the Cinematheque that night, and I am certain that some people present did listen to me and that it changed their ideas a little about the "facts" they had just seen. I am also certain that there were other people who were chagrined at the intolerance demonstrated by the crowd. Still, the fact that they were a silent minority is hard for me to accept.
Permit me, therefore, to say what I did not succeed in saying to those hate-filled people that night. I am proud that I was part of the good and moral forces that operated in Jenin, regular and reserve soldiers with motivation and spirit who went out to destroy the infrastructure of terrorism at its capital. Many of the suicide bombers who murdered old people, women and children in our city streets came from Jenin.
I am proud that we were there and fought, and proud also of our combat ethics. The camp was not bombed from the air, in order to prevent hurting innocent civilians; neither did we use artillery, although we knew of specific areas in the camp where terrorists were hiding out. The soldiers fought the terrorists, and only the terrorists. Before destroying a house from which heavy gunfire was being directed at our soldiers, several warnings were issued and every possibility was given for civilians to get out safely.
Our medical teams treated every wounded person, even if he had Hamas tattoos on his arms. At no stage was medical care withheld from anyone.
This heroic and at the same time moral fighting cost us dearly in the lives of the best of our fighters. We who were there, the soldiers who fell there, their families, and the IDF don't deserve to be used by Muhammad Bakri to incite the world to murder and hatred.