The Road to Jenin

The Road to Jenin by French director Pierre Rehov, depicts a moral Israeli army fighting a just war against armed Palestinians in a hotbed of terrorism which spawned more than half the suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. Among the terrorists from Jenin, for instance, was the killer who took 29 lives in the Passover bombing of the Park Hotel days before.

Israel initially took the dangerous step of sending infantry to fight house-to-house so as to minimize civilian casualties. After nearly two dozen of their own men were lost to ambushes, Palestinian snipers, and booby-trapped houses, Israel brought in bulldozers for use in a limited area, a step which led to the surrender of the Palestinian fighters. (No air attacks were involved.) Can these disparate accountsboth in terms of the facts of the specific incidents they describe, as well the bigger pictures they representbe reconciled ?

Among the most disputed and misrepresented facts about the fighting in Jenin was the number of Palestinians killed and the extent of the destruction. Initially, Palestinian officials claimed that hundreds were killed in the "Jenin massacre." For example, then Palestinian Authority Minister of Local Government Saeb Erekat stated on CNN April 10, one week into the eight day operation: "Im afraid to say that the number of Palestinian dead in the Israeli attacks have reached more than 500 now." (See CAMERA On Campus Fall 2002 for an in-depth review of PA misinformation.) Later, when international workers investigated the camp and found no evidence of a massacre, Palestinian officials drastically lowered the death toll to 56, a number consistent with what Israel had estimated (Washington Times, May 1).

Especially inflammatory was a charge by the director of the hospital in Jenin that Israeli tanks fired 11 missiles at the facility, destroying oxygen bottles, water tubes, sewage pipes, hospital wards, doctors rooms and an infirmary. "The whole of the west wing was destroyed," he testifies. "Fighter planes launched their missiles every three minutes." Yet, the only sign of any damage to the building is a piece of glass falling out of a window.

While the casual viewer may suspect that hospital manager Dr. Mustafa Abo Gali isnt being entirely forthright, the extent of his deception becomes apparent in Rehovs Road to Jenin, in which Abo Gali is also interviewed. In that film, the hospital director shows the alleged damage as a result of 11 shellsa tiny hole or scratch on the outside of a building. Moreover, Rehov provides aerial images of the hospital on the last day of the incursionsurrounding trees, the roof and floors are all intact.

Also, in Road to Jenin, Abo Gali claims that the Israeli army prevented all ambulances from reaching the hospital, insisting: "They didnt want people to get medical treatment." Again, the images show otherwise: Ambulances unload casualties by the hospital doors and IDF soldiers are seeing assisting children and the elderly to reach treatment. Dr. David Zangen, the armys chief medical officer in Jenin during the incursion, and Bakris leading critic, describes how the soldiers even treated Palestinian fighters, including members of Hamas. Finally, in Road, Abo Gali recounts that the 500 hospital occupants"wounded, sick, our team, mothers and children . . . we had no food left." Then Rehov cuts to a scene of an Israeli authorizing Abo Gali in person to receive anything hed like for the hospital, all except weapons.

According to Rehov, fabrication is not an anomaly in Palestinian allegations of Israeli atrocities in Jenin and elsewhere. As international journalists made their rounds in the Jenin wreckage, residents often staged moving photographs: An old woman, sitting in the rubble, is coached: "Look at the camera. Look sad. Put your hand on your face to look desperate."

Underscoring the Palestinian penchant for inventing "news," Rehov even manages to capture on film the manufacturing of a fictitious news story. On Jan. 25, 2003, he accompanies Palestinian journalist Ali Smoddi of the PA-controlled Jenin television station as he and his crew set out to interview a Palestinian man and his wife whose baby was just delivered by a doctor.

At the hospital, Smoddis crew does several "takes" of the fathers account of the birth, each with a different spin. In one version, the father claims that the ambulance they intended to meet was held up at a checkpoint for 15 minutes, and he was forced to deliver his infant son in the car, as the ambulance had not arrived. In another telling, the father says: "The soldiers took me down to the ambulance to check my identification and my wife gave birth in the ambulance and went to the hospital." In each account, Smoddi prompts the father and makes suggestions about the events. Smoddi then prompts the new mother: "The tank stops you while giving birth. Youre alone in the car, talk about your feelings."

Rehov also interviews Thaber Mardawi, an Islamic Jihad fighter in Israeli custody, who states: "I dont know why they [the Israel Defense Forces] sent the infantry [into Jenin]. They knew they would be killed. To see a soldier pass in front of me, Ive waited for this many years." He also discusses the kinds of explosives that the Jenin fighters used against the Israelis. (In contrast, Bakri includes only oblique references to armed Palestinians, which serves his agenda of portraying a U.S.-backed Israeli military force allegedly attacking an innocent population in a massacre worse than Vietnam.)

Road to Jenin includes other revealing testimony. Australian Christian humanitarian volunteer Dalry Jones, who had initially been duped by Palestinian propaganda about Israeli action in Jenin, recounts how Palestinians displayed photos of bodies, "gouged and pitted, torn. We were told this is from torture from the Israelis." Later, when she saw a Palestinian child blow up in front of her face, she realized that the ripped apart bodies were the result of human booby traps that the Palestinians used against the Israelis.

Rehovs clear purpose is to expose the inflammatory and defamatory falsehoods spread by a Arab propaganda. As such his film does not attempt to be an overview of the Israeli and Palestinian experience in Jenin or an exhaustive account of IDF conduct.

Nevertheless, the information that Rehov does provide is based on interviewees who use bona fide images and documents to substantiate their claims.

Critical Reviews:

"Rehov continues to make documentaries about the shocking reality he uncovers in the Middle East because no one else does"
(Joseph Farah - World Net Daily)

"Provocative films about the combat between Palestinian militants and Israeli army"
(Greg Myre - The New York Times)

"The most shocking moments of Rehov's films involve blatant Palestinian efforts to manipulate the media"
(Hanna Brown - Jerusalem Post)

"The information that Rehov does provide is based on interviewees who use bona fide images and documents to substantiate their claim"
(Tamar Stenhal - Camera)

"There is only one filmaker who has presented the truth in the matter of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and his nom de guerre is Pierre Rehov"
(Phyllis Chesler - Author of "The new antisemitism")

"In his documentaries, Pierre Rehov demonstrates how our version of the middle east conflict has been corrupted by the Arab use of reporters as propagandists"
(Jack Engelheard - Author of "Indecent Proposal")

"Seeing Pierre Rehov's documentary film 'The Silent Exodus' about the expulsion and flight of a million Sephardi Jews helped me gain a better understanding of the tragedy of a community that was integral and fundamental to Arab society."
(Magdi Allam - Il Corriere Della Serra)
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Frank Kitman