Gaza Ghetto, a documentary film about a Palestinian family in the occupied Gaza Strip by MERIP editor Joan Mandell and Swedish filmmakers Pea Holmquist and Pierre Bjorklund, premiered in Stockholm in November 1984. In January 1985, a Palestinian theater company in Jerusalem, El-Hakawati, purchased a copy and screened it for the press. The theater then presented Gaza Ghetto to the Israeli Council for Censorship of Films and Plays, as required of all films before public screening. On February 6, 1985, the council for censorship banned the film in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Israeli lawyer Avigdor Feldman appealed the ban on behalf of El-Hakawati on April 15, but a lower court upheld the decision. El-Hakawati then petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court for a reversal, and the court viewed the film at its session in July. Six months later, the court has yet to rule on the censor’s decision, although the lawyer and the theater company have tried several times to push for a verdict.

An excerpt from the censorship council’s January 21 meeting:

A. Anski: I would like to know who gave this film permits to interview soldiers in the army. The reason the film is hard to watch is because of the way it depicts Israelis and Arabs, and both are depicted as they are because the film employed all the methods and techniques used in propaganda to distort information — in the editing, in the filming and by including people from Israel (the minister of defense, Mr. Rabin, Knesset member Ben-Eliezer and minister A. Sharon) — that is to say, there was no propaganda technique which they did not use in this film.

But the problem is that little Israel is the only place in the world where the Council for Censorship of Films can ban a film. There is no body in the world except the state of Israel which can come out against what we’ve seen. If this film is shown abroad and someone from the [Israeli] embassy or consulate happens to be there, then he can get up and say, “This is wrong.” Then everyone will get up and attack him and he’ll leave miserable and whipped. I’ve seen things like this in Los Angeles.

And if we permit the film, it could be that people will attack it, will speak up against it, say that it’s a bad film from the standpoint of propaganda, that it’s poorly put together; there is some chance that there will be an outcry. If we ban it, it is as if we never saw it and as if it never existed. I am in favor of permitting the film.

Amram Blum: This is a film of incitement, just because it contains elements which have truth in them. The film definitely may violate the public’s peace. If I was an Arab and saw this film, I would join the PLO, and if I was a Jew who didn’t know history too well, I could hate the state of Israel. From the standpoint of the public interest we are forbidden to allow the showing of this film.

An excerpt from the council’s March 4, 1985 meeting:

Professor Moshe Sharon: The PLO has guns, it has bombs, and it also has propaganda films. These are the things which the enemy uses to exactly the same degree. It is impossible to come and take a PLO propaganda film and say in the name of freedom of expression that I am showing a PLO propaganda film, just as I cannot come and say I am giving PLO people permission to go around with guns. In this instance we are talking about a PLO propaganda film which is directed toward Arabs in the El-Hakawati Theater, and we know that the kind of people who go there are young and well-to-do youth of the kind who are at Birzeit [University], from where we have just removed three truckloads of propaganda material. The youth come to the El-Hakawati Theater to get fuel in order to continue to fan the flames of revolution. I cannot accept the risk that even one out of x people who see the film may go out and take a Molotov cocktail and throw it at a busful of Jews,… I am not prepared as a member of the Council to take upon myself the responsibility that after seeing this film three friends will get together and say, “You saw those bastard Jews and what they did to us, now we’ll show them.”

Meir Shaham: This film is a PLO film which was ordered ahead of time with the intention of teaching and educating the younger generation. This is a film intended to educate. There is in it no shot which is not designed for that purpose and which is not provocative. Every scene says incitement. As for the claim that this is a documentary film, I will only note that Rabin’s remarks (in the interview) were lifted from the middle of a sentence.

An excerpt from council chairman Y. Yustman’s April 15, 1985 affidavit in response to the Supreme Court appeal:

Y. Yustman: And the height of incitement: They show the photograph of a small boy. An older girl explains that he threw a stone at the soldiers and they shot and killed him. He was eight years old. Then they pass to the crying mother surrounded by the rest of her children. Here there is a very difficult passage. Amidst the cry of pain of the woman who has lost her young son, no one checks or examines and she is not held responsible for what she says in her anguish, even though it contradicts what was said earlier. She explains that the boy (Suhail) just went out to play and didn’t do anything and was killed without any reason by the soldiers. Of course this explanation, and not the previous one, is engraved on the viewer’s heart, since this scene is naturally more powerful. But against the background of this upsurge of emotions comes a well-staged piece of incitement. The mother explains that because of this she will send her other sons to join the PLO and say to the youngest: “It’s true that you will join the PLO to avenge Suhail? Right? Right? Say yes!” (That is, say to the camera.) It is true, as the appellant claims, that the boy seems hesitant and confused and does not answer. But the Council’s fear — and here I would argue that the fear is well-grounded and serious — is that among the viewers there will be someone who will utter the expected “yes,” and on the spot, or soon thereafter, will decide to join a terrorist organization or seek revenge against the Jews, who according to the film do things like this.

How to cite this article:

"Document: The Mind of the Censor," Middle East Report 138 (January/February 1986).

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