Contributing AuthorA contributing author.
I failed to convince the management of the Cinematech to cancel the screening of the film. I was told that the pictures of the wrecked houses were authentic so that there is truth to the film, and, consequently, it will be shown worldwide. Despite what happened I was invited to the public screening of the film in Jerusalem. I attended in order to explain my position. What follows are some of the points I wished to address to the audience.
1. The medical director of the Jenin hospital, Dr. Abu Rali, claimed that the west wing of the hospital had been shelled and destroyed, and that the IDF purposely disrupted the supply of water and electricity to the hospital. Clearly, the IDF could not have done that for the simple reason that there never was a west wing of the hospital. Nor did the IDF ever shell any part of the hospital.
None of our soldiers entered the area of the hospital, even though we knew there were some wanted terrorists hiding there. We carefully protected the supply of water, electricity and oxygen to the hospital during the entire duration of the fighting. We also assisted in setting up an emergency generator after the electricity network in the town was damaged. Bakri himself is seen in the film walking in the hospital halls, all well preserved and clean. But he is not seen in the ?wing? that was allegedly destroyed. I personally met Bakri outside the movie theatre and asked him if he had visited the destroyed wing of the hospital. At first he said ?no.? Then he corrected himself and said: ?Wait a minute, you remember the broken glass seen in the film - it was from there.? It is important to note that Dr. Abu Rali served as one of the ?expert sources? of testimony regarding the ?slaughter? that allegedly occurred in Jenin. At the beginning of the military operation he was interviewed for the al-Jazeera TV station and he spoke about ?thousands? of causalities.
2. An impressive scene in the film is an interview with a 75-year-old man, a resident of Jenin, distraught with crying. He told of having been taken from his bed in the middle of the night, shot in his hand, and, after failing to obey some orders given by a soldier, he was shot again in his foot. I met that elderly man. He was brought to me after soldiers had carried out a search of a house in the refugee camp occupied by Hamas terrorists. He had in fact been slightly injured in his hand and had a light scratch on his foot, certainly not from a bullet. IDF soldiers brought him to a guarded station for treatment, where I and others treated him. One army physician noticed that the man displayed a cardiac disorder. We immediately suggested that he be taken to the hospital in Afula. He wished to be treated in the hospital in Jenin, since he did not know Hebrew. When the Jenin hospital refused to accept him, we had him transferred to the hospital in Afula, where he remained for three days in the Internal Medicine Ward. He was treated there for heart problems and anemia, from which he suffered due to some other chronic illness.
3. Another interviewee reported the story of an infant who was struck in the chest by a bullet from a rifle. The bullet went through the body and exited from the infant?s back. According to the film, the infant died because soldiers prevented his evacuation to a hospital. The infant?s body was never found. Furthermore, if, in fact, there had been such a wound, it certainly would have been fatal. Removal to a hospital would not have saved his life. But what was the infant?s name? Where did the body disappear?
4. The same interviewee told that, with his finger, he ?opened? an aperture in the infant?s neck to make it possible for him breath after he was wounded. That story is total fabrication. The ?witness? also stated that tanks rolled over people?s bodies repeatedly until they were completely pulverized. No such thing ever happened.
5. The film mentions a mass grave that soldiers dug to bury the bodies of Arab Palestinians. The people who investigated this matter agree that 52 Palestinians were killed, and their bodies were transferred to Palestinians for burial. Bakri never took the trouble to name the location of the mass graves that he invented.
6. The film refers to Israeli aircraft that allegedly bombed Jenin. No such thing ever occurred. In order to avoid civilian casualties, only highly focused gunfire from helicopters was employed. There was no bombing of any kind.
7. Bakri did not arrive in Jenin until two weeks after the end of the campaign. The center of the town that was destroyed appears, in his photographs, to be considerably larger than it is in reality. All the pictures of the shahidun (?martyrs? - suicide bombers) and of slogans praising jihad that covered the walls at the time of the military operation had been removed. The film repeatedly manipulates photographs of tanks taken elsewhere and artificially placed near figures of Palestinian children.
In general, the film is the product of gross manipulation, although it is well made.
When the screening of the film concluded, the hundreds of viewers clapped their hands loudly for Bakri and the film?s editor. I went up on the stage and systematically listed the film?s fabrications and lack of accuracy. At first there was some mutterings in the audience that soon turned into outcries of ridicule and name calling, such as
?murderer?, ?war criminal,? and so forth. Before I could finish the second point in my statement, a man from the audience aggressively mounted the stage and tried to pull the microphone out of my hands. I decided not to give in to violence. I allowed him to take the microphone and I left the stage. I was surprised not only by the fact that very few people in the audience stood up to defend the right of free speech. I was actually stunned to see that the audience was not willing to listen to someone who was physically present at the scene of the events.
It was very difficult for me as a person, as a father and as a physician to hear calls of ?murderer? by members of my own people. I said that I murdered no one, but the outcries became even more heated, and enormous hatred was directed against me. A terrible feeling accompanied me that is difficult to escape. I do not regret having gone to the theatre that night. Despite everything, I am certain that a few people heard my
expressions of amazement at the distortions in the film, and that some people?s feelings about the ?facts? they saw portrayed in the film were affected. Others may have been surprised at the lack of tolerance displayed by the audience. Nevertheless, it is difficult for me to fully realize how clearly those people belong to a silent minority.
Allow me to say now what I was unable to say to those possessed by animosity that evening. I am proud to have been part of the superb and extraordinarily moral group of soldiers who operated in Jenin, soldiers of the regular army and of the reserves. They had unusual motivation and fighting spirit. They were instructed to destroy the
terrorist infrastructure in its own capital. Many of the suicide bombers who killed old people, women and children in the streets came from Jenin.
I am also proud that we were there, that we fought the terrorists, and that we did so with the highest standards of moral behavior. No use whatsoever was made of artillery, even though we knew about specific areas in the refugee camps where terrorists were barricaded. Our soldiers fought the terrorists and them alone. Before detonating a building from which murderous gunfire was directed at us, several warnings were issued and every opportunity was given to anyone in the building to leave unharmed. The medical staff provided treatment to any and every wounded person, even if they had the tattoo of the Hamas on their arms. At no time was medical help withheld from anyone.
The battle of Jenin was heroic and moral, taking a terrible toll of many of our finest soldiers and youth. We who fought there and fell there, our families and the IDF as a whole, do not deserve Muhammad Bakri?s incitement of the world to murder and hatred.
* The actor Muhammad Bakri is a member of the Bakri extended family that resides in Beina near Carmiel. Several of its members participated in organizing and supporting terrorism.
Dr. David Zangen served as the medical officer of the IDF brigade fighting in Jenin in April, 2002.
[Originally appeared in Maariv, November 8, 2002. Translated from the Hebrew by Professor Shlomo Sharan of Professors for a Strong Israel.]