Wednesday, April 6, 2011
The Anger and Frustration: the Death of Juliano Mer-Khamis
April 6, 2011
Writing about Juliano’s death almost seems unreal. Is he really dead, was he really killed by a masked gunman outside of the Freedom Theater in the Jenin Refugee camp, could a Palestinian really have killed him? Sadly, yes. Juliano Mer-Khamis, only hours ago was buried in the soil, which gave birth to him and now has taken him away. It is still hard to believe that a man, the human being he was, who during his 52 years of life refused to compromise with the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict, has fallen victim to this uncompromising conflict.
Born to Arna (a Jewish mother) and Saliba (a Palestinian father), both members of the Israeli Communist Party, both from the generation who witnessed 1948, Juliano came to this world in May 1958. In her article on the killing, Amira Hass of Haaretz so eloquently described him in the following words: "This angry man was beset by conflicting yet complementary identities. He was the long shadow of an imagined binational community from the 1950s. Like a Peter Pan who refuses to grow up, Juliano embodied the potential of a shared life (ta'ayush in Arabic ) while striving for equality."
Juliano himself would describe himself as “one-hundred percent Jewish and one-hundred percent Palestinian.” Truly, he was unique. He was outspoken, hyper-critical, and simply someone who refused to be categorized, living his life as he saw fit and never compromising his ideals.
As an actor he was superb and I remember years ago when I taught a film class, my students were shocked when they learned that the strong young Israeli sabra, who played the role of the youth advisor in the film Etz HaDomim Tafus (Under the Domim Tree), was actually half Palestinian. In Palestinian productions he was just as believable.
There is no doubt that Juliano was an outcast within the Israeli society, and there was no lost love among those Israeli extremists who sent him death threats or rejoiced upon hearing about his death. As an activist, he refused to remain silent in light of the ongoing Israeli occupation and dedicated his life to the plight of the Palestinian people. However, while we still need to wait to find out more about who is behind the killing, with all pointing to a Palestinian assailant, it is clear that he fell victim to his own dream. Once again to quote Amira Hass:
"This violence has so many different angles that it can drive you mad. Juliano was lucky to be an artist, and madness was one of his paintbrushes. Through the theater he founded in Jenin, Juliano allowed himself to criticize repressive aspects of Palestinian society. One would guess he did so as a left-winger, as an actor committed to the artist's oath of truthfulness, and as a Palestinian. Let's hope that the killer will be found, and then we'll know if a Palestinian artist was killed because of his courage to live in a way that disrupts the order, or if a Jewish artist was killed because he gave himself permission to overtly criticize a society that is not his, according to some, or if a left-winger was killed because he was disrupting the norm. Or perhaps all three together. Even if he was killed for some other reason, Juliano was still an artist and a Palestinian, a left-winger and a Jew."
Below is a clip about the theater he established in Jenin in 2006. In the words of Juliano, “the Freedom Theater is a venue to join the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation. We believe that the Third Intifada, the coming Intifada, should be cultural with poetry, music, [and] theater…”
Today, I woke up early and made my way to Haifa to pay my last respects, comfort friends, and show my solidarity. It was hard to believe that it was him, Juliano, in the casket which rested upon the stage where he once performed. Together we walked him through the Arab neighborhood Wadi Nis Nas; perhaps one of the only neighborhoods in Israel or Palestine where the residents actually understood, or come close to understand the reality of this Palestinian-Jewish man. He lived in this neighborhood for years, along with so many of his friends and family. After I parted, his journey continued on to cross the Jenin checkpoint for the last time to allow his loved ones who cannot enter Israel to say goodbye. Following this, he was taken to Kibbutz Ramot Menashe where he was buried.
May his dream of a just land where Jews and Palestinians can live together live on. May his memory evoke in us action and not only words; yes, because he was a man of action, not just empty words. May he rest in peace, and my sympathy goes out to his children and his loved ones.
For the link to Amira Hass's article in Haaretz click here