Juliano Mer-Khamis: The Death Of Hope – OpEd


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.



Originally published at Tikun Olam

Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein is an author, journalist and blogger, with articles appearing in Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, Al Jazeera English, and Alternet. His work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine, where he is on the advisory board. Check out Silverstein's blog at Tikun Olam, one of the earliest liberal Jewish blogs, which he has maintained since February, 2003.

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