The Stage is My Gun: The Cultural Intifada of Juliano Mer-Khamis
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.”
- Video: Freedom Theatre
- 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.
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