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Activist, actor, director Juliano Mer Khamis assassinated in Jenin

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.

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    1. David Brenner

      “and from just about every Israeli who commented on any news piece covering him and his activity.” – really? That’s taking it a way too far…

      Reply to Comment
    2. sh

      Here he explains what he wanted the theatre to achieve in Jenin.

      Apart from his family, for whom anyone who saw and was influenced by his work is heartbroken, those most devastated by what has happened will be the children his Freedom Theatre was designed to help.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Frank

      RIP Mr. Mer Khamis.

      Perhaps 972 could have a Palestinian guest writer comment on the rising right wing religious extremism among Palestinians that led to this tragic murder.

      Reply to Comment
    4. T

      A tragic loss. Beautiful piece, Dimi. Thanks.

      Reply to Comment
    5. El

      allah yr7mo… the freedom theatre will not give up

      Reply to Comment
    6. I second Frank’s suggestion above. Moderates on all sides need to speak up now, as it is clear that aggression and violence from extremists is on the rise (including of course from Israel’s ostrich-in-the-sand government) – and the extremists on both sides feed off each other…

      Reply to Comment
    7. Thank you for this piece, Dimi. I am deeply saddened by the loss of Juliano. Glad to have found you and your blog. From Los Angeles …

      Reply to Comment
    8. Betsy Shevey

      Thank you for this. I have experienced violence from Jews, even loved ones and violence from anti-Semites. How do we heal the rage that makes the abused become the abuser? Over and over we witness this cyclical dilemma: to create with compassion not only for the survivors but for the perpertators. They are one and the same.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Ben Israel

      I had never heard of Mer until he was killed. Kalman Liebskind in Ma’ariv on 8 April explained what kind of a man he was….I now see why the “peace camp” loved him.
      According to Liebskind (I’m sorry I don’t have a link) he was a violent man who assaulted two actresses and the Ha’aretz cartoonist Ze’ev. He supported terrorist bombings of Israel and violence against Israelis who didn’t agree with his politics. He opposed the existence of Israel. He was a sort of “post-Jew who morphs into a Palestinian”, the dream of much of the extreme Left.

      Reply to Comment
    10. @Ben Israel – so, I guess when you don’t know about something, the best thing to do is to rely on one source, eh? One op-ed in Maariv, and now you know the guy.
      Very telling indeed.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Ben Israel

      Are you saying what Ma’ariv said is not true? I read another source that said he worked to see Israel eradicated, supported violence against Jews who were not willing to live under Palestinian rule and that he was personally a violent man. From what I see, his views weren’t much different than the views supposedly expressed in “Torah HaMelech” except he was for the Palestinians. He doesn’t seem to have been a Gandhian-like pacifist.
      The fact that he supported a children’s theater and opposed HAMAS does not automatically make him a tzaddik, unlike what his artsy-fartsy Israeli theater friends seemed to think.

      Reply to Comment
    12. I’m just saying it’s telling about how you study issues you know nothing about. Makes me understand your endless rantings on this site much better now. Don’t read too much into it, Ben

      Reply to Comment
    13. Juliano Mer-Khamis was at times violent and abusive to women. If you knew him, even if you did not witness that side of him directly, you knew about it. This is not fodder for a right-wing editorial, to be swept under the rug by people who want to honor his memory.

      This is a fact that is actually integral to honoring his memory, as a whole person, turbulent and flawed, violent in a land where violence is the norm.

      More importantly, we must not forget these stories, even if you did not know him and they were whispered to you over a drink, “did you hear about Juliano Mer-Khamis?” Stories about Juliano’s abuse, living on after he is gone, demand an answer to the question, how did we allow gender violence to be committed by a respected figure of our movement? How do we allow it to continue today, and dare to call ourselves freedom fighters?

      Also, Juliano was a Palestinian Jew. This is how he identified in his life, not just Palestinian, not just Israeli, not Arab-Israeli (that hated term which denies Palestinian identity to Palestinians, and denies Arab identity to Mizrahim), and definitely not “a sort of post-Jew who morphs into a Palestinian.” It is bad enough that we have drawn borders onto the land, let’s not draw them onto Juliano’s body after he has been murdered.

      Reply to Comment