The Stage is My Gun: The Cultural Intifada of Juliano Mer-Khamis

by Olivia Stransky    /  January 7, 2012  / 2 Comments

In 2006, Juliano Mer-Khamis established the Freedom Theatre along with Zakaria Zubeidi, a former military leader of the Jenin Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, Jonatan Stanczak, Swedish-Israeli activist, and Dror Feiler, Swedish-Israeli artist. Photo: Courtesy of The Freedom Theatre

Palestine, 1958-2011: Untamable Courage

Born in 1958, Juliano was the child of Arna Mer, an Israeli Communist and child advocate, and Saliba Khamis, an Arab Christian and secretary of the Israeli Communist Party. While giving birth to her son, Arna Mer almost died when Israeli doctors refused to treat her for being married to an Arab. Despite his cross-cultural heritage Juliano adopted his Jewish mother’s surname. However, ultimately he took on both surnames, a literal indication of his statement that he was “100% Palestinian and 100% Jewish.”

  1. Video: Freedom Theatre
  2. When Juliano returned to Jenin in 2006, many of his mother’s students had become militants and martyrs.

Although Juliano was introduced to Palestinian theater through his mother, a psychodramatist, Juliano’s own work in Jenin was quite different. While Arna focused on providing therapeutic exercises for children during the First Intifada, as shown in Juliano’s documentary Arna’s Children, Juliano founded The Freedom Theatre, “the only professional venue for theatre and multimedia in the north of the West Bank in Occupied Palestine.” In 2008 the theater opened its acting school, a three-year professional theater program for young adults. The third-year students that met with Juliano before he was murdered were the inaugural class of the acting school.

“To lead his organization took courage unimaginable to the rest of us. Making a community was, in this context, a very political act,” says Henry Reese. “He advocated cross-national positions without sacrificing his own point of view, and was anathema to extremists–an Arab to Israelis and an Israeli to Arabs… And though his techniques and his personality were themselves aggressive or passionate—depending on your vantage—using the arts to make a community and build identity without violence is to be exposed as an innocent and rendered defenseless.”

Aside from the razing and firebombing of the theatre from Israeli forces, Juliano faced opposition from Palestinians as well—especially from conservative elements who criticized his co-ed classes and liberal politics. The theatre’s production of Animal Farm pointedly challenged traditional religious authority when its adapted script featured Hebrew-speaking pigs. Pamphlets against The Freedom Theatre were distributed in Jenin, calling Juliano a Zionist agent. “It makes [the Islamic fundamentalists] crazy that a man who is half-Jewish is at the head of one of the most important projects in the Palestinian West Bank,” Juliano said. “After all this work at the camp it would be extremely unfortunate to die of a Palestinian bullet,” he added.

With enemies in Palestine as well as Israel, there is still no certainty regarding who killed Juliano Mer-Khamis and why.

Continue reading this article on page 3

About the Author

Olivia Stransky is an editorial assistant and video editor for Sampsonia Way. She received her B.A. in literature and film from Bard College at Simon’s Rock. While a student, she worked as the editor-in-chief of Glacial Erratic, Simon’s Rock’s literary and arts magazine. After graduating she received a grant to serve as a Fulbright Scholar in Slovakia, where she taught English literature and conversation at Univerzita Komenského in Bratislava.

View all articles by Olivia Stransky

2 Comments on "The Stage is My Gun: The Cultural Intifada of Juliano Mer-Khamis"

  1. Sarah Krauss January 26, 2012 at 5:47 am ·

    Julaino Mer Khamis dedicated his life to truthful expression so I am so sorry that this article about his life and death has been turned into another anti-Israel propaganda piece. It does not even include the fact that he was in fact killed by Palestinian gun man.

  2. David Semak February 19, 2012 at 7:18 pm ·

    Juliano Mer Khamis is a name that I hope will not be forgotten, his work must go on.

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