Yalla Peace: Mourning a quiet, but effective, rebel

‘Normalization’ is a crime punishable by death, as demonstrated by the fanatics who gunned down Palestinian-Israeli actor-director Juliano Mer-Khamis.

Mer-Khamis 311 (photo credit: Wikimedia commons)
Mer-Khamis 311
(photo credit: Wikimedia commons)
Ihad just completed an analysis of a major story – South African Justice Richard Goldstone had backtracked from his report, claiming that Israel had not committed alleged war crimes in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.
It’s a dramatic story because Palestinians frequently cite the Goldstone Report, since the author is a famous Jewish jurist. Israelis, citing the same point, called him a misguided, foolish, self-hating Jew.
But after turning in the story to my Jerusalem Post editor, I read about someone I had encountered briefly online, Juliano Mer-Khamis, who was murdered on Monday in Jenin, shot dead by masked gunmen believed to be Palestinians.
Mer-Khamis was an actor-producer who was a quiet, but effective, rebel against the growing fanaticism, and he was doing much to help bring about peace.
I remember trying to reach out to him when I launched the Israeli- Palestinian Comedy Tour in November 2006. The tour was intended to help bridge the animosity and misunderstanding between the two sides, and featured myself and three other comedians – Israelis Charley Warady and Yisrael Campbell and my African-American Jewish friend Aaron Freeman. We kept missing each other.
People told me what I was doing was a good idea, but cautioned that there were people who would try to bring it down. I had some protection, though, because I am a Christian Palestinian.
And that made me an anomaly – one that is fast disappearing – that made it hard for extremists to target. At least back then.
My writings denounced violence by both sides, but my criticism of Israel was always the extremists’ showcase.
They tolerated my criticism of Hamas and the religious fanatics because I was Christian.
OVER THE past few years, the voices of hatred have increased in volume and scope. They still represent a minority, but religious fanaticism continues to grow.
As a Christian of Orthodox parents, I have become an easy target. Christian Palestinians are tolerated as long as we toe the line. If we question the growing hatred, not just in Israel but in Palestine too, we are targeted.
Several Palestinian websites, like Ikhras and KabobFest, began attacking me. These sites exploit Palestinian suffering for their own selfish goals.
They don’t want Palestinians to rise out of their misery because it might harm their agendas.
Mer-Khamis was the son of a Christian Palestinian father, Saliba Khamis, and an Israeli Jewish mother, Arna Mer, an activist for Palestinian rights. He had been targeted by the religious fanatics. His message was one that challenged the conventional norms. He wanted to make Palestinians and Israelis think.
Mer-Khamis co-founded the Jenin Children’s Theater in 2006 with Zakariya Zubeidi, the former commander of the al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade in Jenin. I had met with Zubeidi in Jenin a year before, discussing my ideas for Comedy for Peace. Despite his involvement, the theater was targeted by arsonists twice, and the threats against Mer- Khamis continued.
Religious fanatics were not just angry at his attempts at “normalization” with Israelis, but also that he proposed such ideas as having co-ed theatrical productions, despite prohibitions on the role of Muslim women in public activities.
At some point, Mer-Khamis wanted to stage the famous play Animal Farm, in which one of the main characters is a pig. The idea that a Muslim would play a pig, even in a theatrical production, so offended the religious fanatics that Mer-Khamis’ life was again in danger.
“NORMALIZATION” REPRESENTS one of the worst crimes in the eyes of these extremists, whose influence on the Palestinian future continues to grow.
Religious loonies have made it an annual celebration to attack the Christian mayor of Taiba, the only all- Christian village in the West Bank.
Taiba is the home of Taybeh Beer, and the religious fanatics believe any form of alcohol is haram – the ugly word of Arab religious repression.
Every year when Taiba hosts its annual festival, religious extremists attack the mayor in some form or another, vandalizing his property and even setting fire to his car one time.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas fanatics have threatened female journalists who refuse to wear a head covering, and in the West Bank they have threatened organizers of fashion shows, dances and other activities the small-minded extremists believe pose a threat to their religion.
Palestinians are watching the prodemocracy protests in the neighboring Arab countries with envy, hoping to do the same in the territories. But we can’t cry for real democracy as long as the violent religious fanatics roam our streets preaching intolerance and hatred. It is a major growing problem in Palestine.
Whether on hate websites, on the angry streets of the Gaza Strip or in places like Jenin, small handfuls of fanatics hold our future as Palestinians hostage to their insanity. They drag everything down to the lowest common denominator. They are incapable of achieving anything positive.
The fanatics are incapable of building a country called Palestine, and the murder of Mer-Khamis reminds us again of how easily they can shoot it down.
The writer is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host. www.YallaPeace.com