Creative Resistance in Palestine’s Juliano Mer Khamis
Published May 18, 2011 3:44 PM
The life of a beloved freedom fighter, Juliano Mer Khamis, was ended by five
bullets on April 4. He was assassinated as he was leaving the Jenin Freedom
Theatre, which he co-founded with his mother, Arna Mer Khamis.
Juliano Mer Khamis was a fearless artist and human being. His legacy speaks of
the role artistic creation and culture can play as a weapon against oppression,
even amidst the most horrible depths of injustice.
The Freedom Theatre is a community-based theater in the city of Jenin in
Palestine’s northern West Bank. Its refugee camp is home to 16,000
people, 50 percent of whom are under the age of 20. The camp, surrounded by
electric fences, is one of the most deprived areas of Occupied Palestine. Its
youth live in poverty and isolation under a repressive occupation, with the
constant menace of military incursions.
When the Israeli military invaded Jenin in 2002, part of the refugee camp was
reduced to rubble, with almost every child traumatized by fear, frustration and
violence after witnessing first-hand or threatened death and destruction. The
Freedom Theatre was established to offer a safe space where youth could be free
to dream, play, hope and express themselves. Its aim is to heal, help capture
lost childhood and provide skills for healthy development.
Juliano Mer Khamis was born in Nazareth to a Palestinian father and a Jewish
Israeli mother. He self-identified as 100 percent Palestinian and 100 percent
Jewish. His father, Saliba Khamis, was at one time secretary of the Israeli
Communist Party. His mother, also a communist, became an anti-Zionist activist
and fearless fighter for peace, justice and human rights. During her pregnancy,
at a protest in Israel against the racist imposition of martial law on
Palestinian villages, she went into labor. She was rushed to a hospital, but
doctors refused to treat her because she was married to an Arab, and she nearly
bled to death.
When Mer Khamis grew up, he joined an elite fighting unit of the Israeli
Defense Forces. In 1978, while stationed in Jenin, he refused an order to
forcibly remove an elderly Palestinian man from his car. He ended up in a fight
with his commanding officer and was subsequently imprisoned. He then left the
Beginning in the 1980s he worked as a film, TV and stage actor. The original
Freedom Theatre Project was his mother’s vision, and Mer Khamis worked
with her on the project, which was partly funded by prize money awarded to her
for winning the Alternative Nobel Prize. She died in 1994.
The original Freedom Theatre was destroyed during Israel’s 2002 invasion.
But in 2006 it was rebuilt and expanded and now offers various programs,
workshops and filmmaking training.
Eight years ago Mer Khamis collaborated to produce and direct a documentary
called “Arna’s Children,” which documents the theater’s
work, the lives and deaths of the children who participated in the plays and
theater workshops, and the 2002 unspeakable tragedy of the Israeli invasion.
The film won the Best Documentary Feature prize at the 2004 Tribeca Film
On May 4 a commemoration celebrating the life and work of Juliano Mer Khanis
was held in New York City’s Church of St. Paul the Apostle. Musical
tributes and video slides of Mer Khamis in various settings were shown
throughout the evening. Among those present who gave tributes were poet Remi
Kanazi; filmmaker Udi Aloni; civil rights attorney Abdeen Jabara; actress
Kathleen Chalfant, who read a statement from playwright Eve Ensler; Linda
Chapman, representing the New York Theatre Workshop; and playwright Tony
Kusher, a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner. A quote from Che Guevara was
For more information, visit www.thefreedomtheatre.org.
Articles copyright 1995-2012 Workers World.
Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.
Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011
Email: [email protected]
Subscribe [email protected]
Support independent news DONATE