’Occupation, Palestinians can't kill the art'

A year after his murder in Jenin, loved ones mourn actor and director Juliano Mer-Khamis, call for justice to be served

Palestinians denounce killing of actor Juliano Mer-Khamis 31 (photo credit: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters)
Palestinians denounce killing of actor Juliano Mer-Khamis 31
(photo credit: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters)
Relatives and loved ones of actor, theater director and activist Juliano Mer-Khamis held events in Israel and the West Bank on Wednesday to mark a year since he was gunned down outside the theater he opened in Jenin.
In the late morning in Ramallah, a few dozen people, including local politicians, rallied outside the Mukata presidential compound and the next-door grave of Yasser Arafat to protest that no one has been brought to justice by Palestinian Authority security forces.
Born in Nazareth to Arna Mer, a Jewish mother and Saliba Khamis, an Arab Christian father, Mer-Khamis spent his life in both worlds. The conflict within his own identity represented, in some ways, a sort of microcosm of the conflicting identities between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
Alongside his close friend Zakariya Zubeida, the Jenin commander of the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade, Mer-Khamis opened the “Freedom Theater” in 2006. He often spoke about how culture and art could lead to empowerment and serve as a sort of popular struggle in their own right.
The theater tackled not only matters relating to the Palestinian struggle, but also subjects such as gender issues and individual rights that were highly controversial and led to his receiving no shortage of death threats.
In particular, a performance of Animal Farm held shortly before his death drew controversy because of the fact that one of the actors depicted a pig, considered impure in Islam.
On Wednesday night, the al-Midan Theater in Haifa held an event with musical and theatrical performances in honor of Mer-Khamis titled “Who Shut Me Up?”
Also on Wednesday, at the Arab-Jewish theater in Jaffa, a group of his former students from Jenin performed a montage from plays he directed, including Animal Farm, Alice in Wonderland and Fragments from Palestine.
Taiseer Khatib, who works at the Freedom Theater, said that the murder slowed down the theater’s productions “mainly because people are still in shock and unable to believe that Juliano doesn’t exist anymore.”
Khatib said that the killing represents “a stressful sort of silencing of the theater in Jenin and of the freedom of art too.”
Speaking ahead of the event, Israeli filmmaker Udi Aloni, who worked at the Freedom Theater with Mer- Khamis, spoke about the significance of the night.
“First we’re here to mark the anniversary of the murder, second to be angry that nobody knows who killed him and third is to continue his vision, to continue the work with his students.”
Aloni said that only four of the seven students invited from Jenin were able to gain permission from Israeli authorities to attend the event, and that the other three would try to take part somehow by phone.
Students and teachers are working hard to maintain the Freedom Theater, though Aloni admitted that he works mainly with graduates of the school, so that he doesn’t have to “struggle to keep his legacy open.” He said he lost his closest friend.
“There is a tendency with people he touched to try to keep up his vision and it’s in our hands to do so. I’m not sure we can, but we can try,” Aloni said.
He added that the message of the night’s performances is “that no one can kill the art, not the occupation, and not the reactionary forces in Palestinian society either.”