Monday, April 04, 2011

Don't let them murder a dream!

(right) his mother Arna, with red
flowers, at London vigil during
first Intifada. The placards
bore names of Palestinian
children who had been killed by
Israeli forces.

JULIANO Mer-Khamis, actor, theatre director and campaigner with a vision, has been murdered. The 53-year old Israeli-Palestinian who worked to bring world culture and hope to the Jenin refugee camp and amplify an articulate Palestinian voice in the world, was shot five times outside his Jenin Freedom Theatre today.

Jenin police chief Mohammed Tayyim said the masked gunmen who killed Juliano were Palestinians, but the circumstances of the murder were still being investigated. A Palestinian ambulance took his body to a nearby checkpoint to be transferred into Israel.

Whatever the immediate responsibility for this crime it was a blow not only to Mer Khamis' vision for theatre and film contributing to the liberation struggle, but to the hope that Palestinian Arab and Jew can live in freedom, peace and equality in a shared land.

Juliano himself was a earnest for such co-existence. His mother Arna was a former kibbutznik who served in the pre-state Palmach before turning to the Communist Party and quest for peace with justice. His father, Saliba Khamis, was a Party member, a Palestinian Christian by background. Juliano was born and raised in Nazareth, where Tewfik Ziyad was Communist Party mayor.

It was on March 30, 1976, the same year that Juliano Mer Khamis commenced his military service with the IDF, becoming a paratrooper, that Israeli forces shot dead six people, some young girls his own age, protesting Israeli land seizures that were regarded as part of the government's plan for "Judaisation of the Galilee". Thus was born Yawm el Ard, the Day of the Land.

The Lebanon war, and the movement to reject military service there or in the Occupied Territories, still lay ahead. But someone in Juliano's position was bound to think what he was doing, and some of his mates in the paras were also starting to have their doubts.

In the 1980s, while most Israelis who went into the Occupied Trritories did so as fanatical settlers, Arna Mer-Khamis went in for different reasons, working with children in Jenin refugee camp, and setting up the theatre as both a cultural centre and a safe space. In 2006 Juliano opened the Freedom Theatre, along with Zakariya Zubeidi, the former commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Jenin.

This partnership should have laid to rest any suspicions or allegations that the theatre was an exercise in collaboration or 'normalising' the occupation. So should the fact that the theatre suffered being trashed by Israeli soldiers when they re-invaded Jenin. But Mer Khamis ran into hostility when he spoke in some places abroad, and there were threats, and two attempts to torch the theatre.

The Freedom Theatre not only trained young actors but gave Palestinian youngsters the opportunity to acquire camera and other practical skills, as well as confidence in expression. That might be counted part of liberation. But some people did not like co-education and other progressive features. Others objected to the staging of 'Animal Farm' - ostensibly because it meant young actors playing a pig, which is unclean in Islamic as Jewish dietary law. But since they were acting, not eating, the animal, we might suspect it was the message about leaders who become just like the oppressors that was really considered objectionable.

Meanwhile, busloads of youngsters for whom life under occupation provides little to laugh at, and whose communities suffer claustrophobia and humiliation, were able to find delight and free the imagination at the theatre. Last year it achieved probably a first, with Alice in Wonderland in Arabic. Raised hopes and horizons, as well as a sense of the absurd, are a threat to both external and internal oppressors.

Jenin governor Qadura Moussa called Mer Khamis a great supporter of the Palestinian people. He said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told him to bring those responsible for his death to justice. Whatever we think of Abbas, who may not have long to go, this murder does demand justice.

Whoever was directly responsible, we can be sure that Israeli leaders like Netanyahu and Lieberman are laughing tonight. There, they will be saying, so much for the idea that Palestinians can enjoy culture and progressive ideas in freedom, or that we can live together as peoples, rather than with our boot on their neck. Their satisfaction may be short lived. The tide of freedom struggle that has swept the Arab world is not going to stop at Palestine. A new Intifada is to be expected.

Those who ordered the murder of Juliano Mer Khamis may be hoping to divert this into the dead end of pure destructive nationalism, or religious reaction, preferring eventual defeat at the hands of militarily overwhelming Israeli forces to the prospect of Palestinian success accompanied by political and social change. Some regimes may hope to continue behind-scenes deals with the Zionists while encouraging supposed intransigence in Palestine so long as it gets nowhere. The last thing they want to see is Palestinian democracy and progress. But their days too are numbered.

A fighter and a visionary has been taken from us. Don't let them murder his dreams! They are ours too.

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At 12:14 AM, Anonymous Sue Katz said...

Absolutely brilliant testimony, Charlie. I'm going to repost it with gratitude.


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