News just broke that Juliano Mer Khamis, who has established and run the Freedom Theater in Jenin, has been assassinated by masked gunmen in the refugee camp near the theatre. Mer Khamis, son of a Palestinian father and a Jewish mother, has faced threats since forever: From conservatives in the camp who took a strong dislike to the theatre’s liberal repertoire and casting of both men and women, both boys and girls; from nationalists who saw him as an agent of the occupation, a promoter of normalization; and from just about every Israeli who commented on any news piece covering him and his activity.
There will be so much said and written about Juliano in the coming days. Friends and students will laud his tremendous bravery, his contempt for the walls and barriers – especially barriers of fear – that crisscross our country, his sense of stage, his talent. Enemies will pour mud on him, rejoicing in the death of one they see as a half-breed and a turncoat. Comrades will remember a complex and uneasy man, as famous for his rough temper as he was for his devotion to the cause.
There will be so much said. I would just like to share this memory. It’s seven years ago, 2004. The Student Coalition at Tel Aviv University, an organization I co-founded, is staging a massive teach-out on the university square, trying to disrupt the normalcy of dozy lectures as the streets were burning.
At the end of a long, long day with lectures and arguments and songs and chants, as darkness fell on plush northern Tel Aviv, we screened Juliano’s film, “Arna’s children” – still, to my mind, the best documentary ever done about the Occupation. We, some five hundred students, sat in the outdoor auditorium, stunned. Before us, the “Palestinian gunmen” of the newscasts we knew since childhood – these footnotes in the reports, usually afforded no visuals, just “three Palestinian gunmen were shot in the West Bank today, IDF spokesman said. In other news…” – were coming to life as human beings, speaking about their childhood dreams, their slain comrades, their hopes or lack of hope for a future; sometimes as children, sometimes as grown, gun-wielding men, with children just like they used to be clustered around their knees. After the credits rolled and passed, the plaza was completely silent. One girl, a moderate centre-leftist from the campus chapter of Meretz, raised her hand. Juliano called her out. She got up and asked: “What can we do to help?”
This was the most humanizing, wall-shattering moment of my life.