Four years since the loss of Juliano Mer-Khamis

Four years since the loss of Juliano Mer-Khamis
Comment: Shot in Jenin refugee camp in 2011, the director of the Freedom Theatre was the victim of a corrupt and defeated society.
3 min read
03 Apr, 2015
Mer-Khamis was director of the Freedom Theatre in Jenin refugee camp [Getty]
I went to Jenin's refugee camp in the occupied West Bank at the invitation of Juliano Mer-Khamis for a viewing of my film, Shadow of Absence, at the Freedom Theatre.

Mer-Khamis ran the show after the death of his mother Arna, who created the project to give young people in the camp a theatre. This was the first time I had met him, but I had heard about him and his communist family, and met brother, Spartacus, years ago in London.

Mer-Khamis was an actor, filmmaker and playwright. He believed art could be an effective means to help Palestinians to fight the occupation. Young men and women in the Jenin refugee camp loved him and respected his message.

This drove him to work and live with them, and he befriended his mother's students who were also aspiring theatrical actors.

However, the second intifada dragged them into tragedy as some of his students became suicide bombers or were killed. 

Others were wanted by the Israeli army, including Zakaria al-Zubeidi, the head of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades in Jenin. 

The actors cared about preserving the image of the dead and the lives of the living. This was embodied by Arna’s Children, his phenomenal documentary about his mother and her students.

     Kind and gentle, he was the son of a Jewish mother and an Arab Christian father who were both communists.

Kind and gentle, he was the son of a Jewish mother and an Arab Christian father who were both communists.

He followed the path of struggle with the oppressed Palestinians, because of his mother and the cruelty of the occupation. Tragically, the filmmaker was killed in cold blood in Jenin in broad daylight.

April 4 marks four years since he was killed. However, despite having good relations with the al-Aqsa Brigades, official circles in Jenin, and residents in the camp, the Palestinian Authority have made little effort to find his killers.

The actor's friends believe he was killed by Islamic fundamentalists for pursuing ideas out of line with their ideology.

Mer-Khamis was killed a week before Gaza-based Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni. The young writer was kidnapped, accused of spreading corruption, and murdered after Hamas' security services failed to rescue him.

The killings of Mer-Khamis and Arrigoni were followed six months later by the suicide of Francois Abu Salem, founder of the influential Palestinian National Theatre. These deaths have raised questions about Palestinian society's readiness to accept new ideas from people with different cultural and social backgrounds. 

Under Israeli law, Mer-Khamis was considered Jewish because of his mother's religion, even though his father was Palestinian. The actor defined himself as belonging to the Palestinian people, but this did not save him - neither did his refusal to follow Israeli society.

In a defeated society experiencing the collapse of social, cultural and political values, and dominated by political, ideological and religious corruption it became impossible to accept people who are different.

Mer-Khamis was an an outstanding Palestinian artist and victim of a society he dreamed of progressing and freeing by living and working with its youth.

Born May 1958 to Arna Mer-Khamis, an Israeli Jewish human rights activist and Saliba Khamis, a Christian Palestinian communist intellectual.

In his confused younger years he voluntarily joined the IDF and served in Jenin.

His mother Arna set up four educational centres and the Stone Theatre, which was demolished by an Israeli bulldozer in 2002 in Jenin refugee camp.

Juliano set up the Freedom Theatre with Zakaria Zubeidi in 2006 to create an artistic movement dedicated to eradicating discrimination and violence.

He produced and directed his first documentary film Arna's Children in 2003 about his mother’s work in the camp.

Arna's Children won best documentary feature in the 2004 Tribeca Film Festival.

Mer-Khamis was shot by masked gunmen after leaving the theatre he had founded in Jenin in April 2011.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.