Juliano Mer-Khamis: The Death of Hope
Juliano Mer-Khamis, the noted Israeli actor-director, was assassinated in Jenin on Monday. The PA has arrested Mujahed Qaniri, a Palestinian suspected of the crime. The shooter has alleged connections to Hamas.
Mer-Khamis was a living, breathing representative of what an Israeli, and Israel itself, could be in the vision of a “state of all its citizens.” He was the child of a secular Jewish mother and Christian Arab father. Always, when you write about an Israeli you must know his/her religion and ethnicity to really understand him or her.
I stopped before I wrote the first sentence of this post, because the usual rules don’t apply. What was he? Just “Israeli?” Israeli Christian-Jew? Israeli Arab-Jew? Israeli Palestinian-Jew? The look and feel of the phrases seem unwieldy, preposterous. And yet is was. It simply was. Just as the future Israel sometime will be.
But in the meantime, they killed him. They killed hope. “They” is the killer. They is Hamas. But they is equally all those who hate and fear on the Jewish side as well. All the settler rabbis who call for the creation of concentration camps for Israeli Palestinians, or for shunning any Jew who rents an apartment to a Palestinian.
Mer-Khamis rejected all this nonsense. He was beyond it. He rejected it whether it came from Palestinians or Jews. Because it was cant. Because it restricted his freedom, both individual and artistic. And that’s why they killed him. Fear killed him. Hate killed him. Jewish hate. Palestinian hate. In his death is a little bit of the death of that vision I mentioned above.
Here is the cultural appreciation of an Israeli friend, Akiva Orr, published by Max Blumenthal:
Yesterday the Israeli-Arab actor-director Juliano Mer-Khamis was shot dead by a hooded assassin near his Freedom Theatre in Jenin.
Juliano Mer-Khamis’s funeral took place today in Kibbutz Ramot Menashe some 10 feet from his mother’s grave (which he designed). I knew his mother very well. Arna (1930-1995) was a genuine humanist who could not remain quiet when she saw someone being wronged. It outraged her and she reacted vehemently. It was a guts response, not a rational response.
Jules took after her but had the added complication that his Dad was a Christian Arab (once the leader of the Communist Party in Nazareth) whereas Arna was a secular Jew whose father founded the medical corps in the IDF was a world authority on malaria, hated Ben-Gurion, and expelled her after marrying an Arab.
Jules had a cultural ID complex which he exploited through art. He was an excellent actor. He acted out his life. About 800 people attended the funeral, two third Arabs one third Jews. I met many old friends there. Nowadays we are too old to meet in demos so we meet in funerals.
An Arab youth choir sang and many people said a few words.
…Jules complained about the the arch conservative leadership of the Jenin refugee camp and planned to move to Jenin town, which is more enlightened. The older generation leadership (50% of the camp inmates are under 20) was worried that the youth followed Juliano and his “Freedom Theater”.
He preached freedom not only from Israel, but also from Muslim tradition. Many young girls, who rebel against the subservient role of women in the Palestinian society, were ardent actresses. The oldies didn’t like the fact that girls appear on stage, have roles, and act together with boys.
The theatre is located inside the camp. There were two attempts to burn it down.
The latest play Jules staged was “Alice in wonderland.” Most theatres in the West Bank refused to show it because the major role of a clever girl outraged all oldies in the West Bank. No newspaper in the West Bank mentioned the Alice play. It seems this was too much for the oldies.
So Jules paid with his life for staging “Alice in Wonderland” in Palestine. He died for the cause of “women’s liberation” … which goes much beyond “Palestine liberation.” Too much for some people.
MAY ALICE FORGIVE THE FOLLIES OF THE FOOLS
22 thoughts on “Juliano Mer-Khamis: The Death of Hope – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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“What was he? Just “Israeli?” Israeli Christian-Jew? Israeli Arab-Jew? Israeli Palestinian-Jew?”
In his own words, “I am 100% Palestinian and 100% Jewish.”
His interpretation of ‘Alice’ was brilliant – very unconventional, and very powerful. It wasn’t subversive just because it had a female lead; it’s what he’d done to the story. The play’s Alice is about to be forced into an engagement she doesn’t want. During her journey through Wonderland, the main theme is control – people always trying to pressure her or possess her. She emerges from Wonderland with the realisation that she has the power to make her own choices. The theatre was packed for every single production; I tried to get seats for my entire youth group and couldn’t, because they were sold out so far in advance.
Julio has left his mark and his work will continue. It’s a terrible loss for Jenin, but he’s planted the seeds now, and there is a saying here that is used often in the non-violent resistance: “You can crush the roses, but you can’t stop the spring.”
Thank you for posting the above. It needed to be said.
I’d never heard of nor seen Juliano Mer-Khamis until the day he died. And that, sadly, was only because of the manner of his death.
By all accounts, he seems to have been an exceptional person, someone who will be hard, if not impossible to replace. He got things moving, created new opportunities, new dreams, wasn’t afraid to experiment in surroundings where innovation and novelty are much more the exception rather than the rule.
It must be admitted that, even in this, our modern 21st century, we still have too many places that are like that.
I, myself, have made some foray into promoting innovation. Fortunately for me, no organisation or individual has yet to place a contract on my head. It seems my attempts to change the status quo have met with a very limited response. Modifying the norms and customs of the times in which we live (and die) is, perhaps, best left to the likes of Mr. Mer-Khamis and others with his outlook on society.
Why then am I a little envious of Juliano and his fate? Perhaps because his life (and maybe his death) will have changed things for the better in some mysterious fashion, ways that we may only come to know as the future unfolds.
Let us all hope so.
The world can ill afford to lose men such as this.
I, like Mr.John Yorke, (indeed!), believe in the irreplacebility of such beautifuly complex & generously artistic and exquisitely human personality as Juliano Mer-Khamis! May be that he needed be much better aided to keep staying alive there, in the Jenin refugee camp! I think that is a impardonable neglect from the side of those responsibles there, in Jenin, but also from the israeli neglectful officials, so that their irresponsibility in JEOPARDIZING the precious life of Juliano is more than obvious! Never will be another like Juliano Mer-Khamis! Ta’ayush forever…
my correction:”the RESPONSIBILITY in jeopardizing the life”…(the strange neglect of the israeli officials!) Thank you!
If you’ve never heard about Juliano Mer-Khamis, then by all means see “Arna’s Children”, the documentary he made about his mother’s work in Jenin.
Thanks for that information, fiddler.
I have been watching the documentary on You tube and it is a truly remarkable story; a mother, son and children relationship that can transcend the barriers of so much hatred and suspicion.
I was able to note that since Juliano’s death, ‘Arna’s Children’ has been viewed by hundreds of those who, perhaps, like myself would never have had occasion to do so.
Actually, it was his mom, Arna, who got things moving. The theatre project in Jenin was originally her project, and he kept it going after her death from cancer.
For some background information, please watch the documentary film “Arna’s Children”, which Juliano directed.
Yes, she seems to have had enough energy and determination to move mountains.
And moving mountains is just about what it takes to perform the sort of course correction in the way things have been going up till now.
Indeed a great loss.
Too bad we don’t have several thousand like him from both sides.
The “Freedom Theater” he created, is not just a theater, it is also a theater school for kids and youth in Jenin and the area.
The good news is that we do have people like him on both sides – far more than we realise! 🙂 And everybody else has the potential to be like him, so there’s always hope.
Have you thought about going to see one of the plays at the theatre? I want to take my youth group soon, perhaps in the summer.
It was his mother who created the theatre.
Richard, this is truly one of the most heartbreaking posts you’ve ever offered. How I wish, as antidote to this tragedy, that John Yorke’s words could of certainty be true: “Perhaps because his life (and maybe his death) will have changed things for the better in some mysterious fashion.” Yet the image arising for me in all this is that ending of the anti-war film, “King of Hearts”, where at the very end the British soldier (Alan Bates) throws off his uniform and, totally naked, is reborn as he enters the local insane asylum where the people are normal. Would it were all otherwise.
I was sitting on the subway on Monday afternoon when I got a SMS about Juliano Mer-Khamis’ death. The walls came falling down on me, and I had to get off to come to my senses.
I loved this human being, I truly did. And I encourage everyone to read about his life: a metaphore of what’s bringing us all to this blog.
He has on various occasions talked about his complex identity: He NEVER referred to himself as an Israeli. Always as 100% Palestinian, and 100% Jewish. This has not always been the case.
As a young man, he volunteered to the IDF (His communist Palestinian father didn’t talk to him for more than a year) and only used his Jewish name “Mer” to be accepted by the Israeli Jewish community. But somehow the fathers of his girl-friends always found out that he was an Arab !
He’s explained that during his IDF service at a check-point in Jenin, he was asked by his superior to control an old Palestinian and get him out of the car. He refused, came into a fight with his superior, went to prison for a couple of weeks, left the army and realized that “I didn’t belong to the Jewish side”.
A long personnal journey made him aware of being a Palestinian.
I’m not trying to take credit but that’s how he defined himself in his last interview where he talked about the theater: “We’re not terrorists”
Juliano Mer-Khamis lived in Jenin with his wife Jenny (from Finland, pregnant, expecting twins – may God give her strengh) and his small kids. He was shot, sitting in his car after leaving the theater with his 1 year-old son and the baby-sitter next to him. She later has identified the killer.
Yesterday morning, his coffin was exposed in the al-Maidan theater in Haifa where Juliano Mer-Khamis lived for many years. It was later transferred through the Jalame checkpoint to Jenin where thousands attended the procession, and later in the afternoon he was buried in the kibbutz Ramot Menashe between Haifa and Nazareth (where he was born) next to his mother, Arna.
Tributes will be paid to Juliano Mer-Khamis in major European cities throughout the next week.
I really recommend everyone to see his film “Arna’s Children”, in my opinion the best film ever made about the life in Palestine under occupation. It’s a tribute to his mother, Arna Mer, this absolutely divine person who settled down in Jenin to work with the children there. We follow her sick of cancer coming back to continue her work. The film is made over two periods: when Juliano Mer-Khamis comes back years later, many of the kids have died or as Zakaria Zoubeidi – the co-director of the theater – become well-known members of the Al-Aqsa Brigades.
(two hours, keep it for a rainy day)
By the way, it was Juliano Mer-Khamis who stood up in the middle of a projection of “Avatar” in California last winter, yelling that the “Blues” were an allegory of the Palestinians 🙂 A few weeks later, the demonstrators in Bilin dressed up as ‘Blues’. Photos on the net.
I don’t think Hamas is to blame for this murder. There’s enough to blame them already 😉
Qanini was a former member of al-Aqsa Brigades who spent 5 years in the Israeli prisons, and according to Zakaria Zoubeidi, he was ‘independent’. Hamas is declining all relations with this person:
According to people in Jenin, some have felt offended by the setting-up of “Animal Farm” where Palestinian kids were dressed up as pigs 🙁 In that case, we can talk about Hamas and their religious/cultural intolerance.
Juliano Mer-Khamis played in many of Amos Gitaï’s films and last in “Miral”.
I’m sorry, I was so long, but I so much want everybody to know Juliano Mer-Khamis. I hope people within the ’67-borders will put flowers on his grave.
It’s maybe not the proper place to mention this, but the kibboutz Ramot Menashe is built on a destroyed Palestinian village.
Thank you, thank you. I’m so glad to hear these things I didn’t know about him.
Imagine; being killed for being a humanist! Religion has killed more people than any other of man’s inventions.
You claimed earlier that hamas doesn’t have anti tank weapons. However just yesterday hamas deliberately fired a cornet anti tank missile at an Israeli school bus mortally wounding a 16 year old boy. So do they have anti tank missiles? (or perhaps this attack was committed by the shabak?)
The crux of the matter is this. On every side there are weapons and even the crudest has the potential for dealing out death and serious injury when the occasion arises.
No one in this world comes into it carrying a weapon; rather too many of us, however, seem to depart with one in close proximity, especially when that departure is unusually abrupt.
But, as we all know, guns or whatever their equivalent, do not kill people. People kill people. And they do so for a number of reasons. Some are good reasons, most are bad.
And, for sixty and more years, this conflict has been kept in being because of those reasons. Why? Because those reasons, good and bad, are so easily interchangeable within communities that find themselves in this position. One has its reasons; the other has more or less the same. And the reasons continue to increase. If no new reason arises that is sufficiently dominant, dominant to the exclusion of all the others, then the situation must remain as it is and will always do so; an out-of-control balancing act, so erratic that it is painful to watch. And even more painful to endure.
That new reason, if it does exist, must be found. Of course, it may be that we can never find it; over sixty years of searching may very well indicate such a possibility.
Then we may simply have to call it into existence ourselves. How difficult would that be, I wonder?
More difficult than letting things stay much as they are, without any serious hope for change or resolution?
A terrible tragedy. Just a couple of weeks ago I watched “Arna’s Children”, following a link from a comment in this blog. My thoughts and prayers are with the wife and the little children, both born and yet to be born. May we all rise to the same level of truth, courage and creativity.
I just watched “Arna’s Children” again. What a powerful film. To me it shows the human side of the Palestinian fighters and suicide bombers, of whom we normally know nothing and only hear reports of their crimes and violence. They are often portrayed as savages, bloodthirsty beasts, etc. The film shows that they are human beings, like me and you, who find themselves in circumstances in which they feel they have to fight for their life, rights, freedom and dignity against a powerful army and state by whatever means they have.
Look at those kids as they are acting, playing and fooling around. It could be any kids anywhere in the world, funny, spontaneous, mischievous, direct, sincere, eager to express themselves. Look at them years later. They seem not to have lost their humanity under the inhuman circumstances of war: they laugh, cry, mourn, and they fight. I don’t know if they hate Jews, but they do hate the army, the occupation and most of all their prison-like conditions.
I often think what would I do if I were in their shoes? And there is no easy answer. Fighting seems like a brave and right thing to do. But what Juliano Mer-Khamis did is, in the end, much more courageous and right: we should fight injustice, humiliation and oppression by refusing to succumb to them, by developing inner strength, critical thinking, understanding, be it through arts or dialogue or nonviolent protest.
I also watched the videos from The Freedom Theatre (http://www.youtube.com/user/thefreedomtheatre) . I am truly impressed by these youngsters and what they do. This is probably the greatest tribute to Juliano’s life. Hopefully the theater will go on now that Juliano is no longer there.
If only more Jews and Israelis would watch the film and the Freedom Theatre performances. Maybe they’d see that these kids are not much different from their own kids, longing for freedom, recognition, expression and fun.
You’re so right. I really think it’s the best film ever made on Palestine. I’m going to see it tomorrow night during a rally in memory of Juliano Mer-Khamis, and though I’ve already seen it at least three times in the past, I look forward to seeing it with people who knew him and his mother personally.
There’s an interview with Juliano Mer-Khamis on ‘electronicintifada’ where he explains why his mother is buried in the kibbutz of Ramot Menashe:
He explains the difficulties of burying his mother because she refused to have a religious burial. Juliano Mer-Khamis was obliged to keep her coffin in his house for three days, he threatened to bury her in his back garden, before receiving a phone call from the kibbutz Ramot Menashe who proposed to bury her on their (former palestinian) land.
The Palestinians had already proposed to bury Arna Mer in the “Cemetary of the Martyrs” in Jenin, but a local leader explained: “It’s an honor to have Arna here with us, a great honor, the only thing is maybe in about 50 years time, some Jewish archaeologist will come here and say ‘there are some Jewish bones here’ and they’re going to confiscate the land of Jenin …Even if they find Jewish bones of a dog, they take the place… Every place they take, they find the bones of a Jew, and that’s how they justify the ownership of the land, by finding bones …”
I do deeply regret, though, that Juliano Mer-Khamis, and his mother Arna, aren’t buried in Jenine, THEIR town.