Remembering Juliano Mer-Khamis and His Theater of Hope and Resistance in Jenin
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
Young Palestinian men mourn the death of Juliano Mer-Khamis (poster) outside The Freedom Theatre in Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank a day after unknown gunmen killed the actor and director in his car. (photo: Saif Dahlah/AFP/Getty Images)
"I have no hope for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at least not in my lifetime. You ask for political, practical, local hope. Like it’s going to be solved. Jews and Arabs are going to kiss each other and hold hands and go to the beach. This is not going to happen. I have hope as a human being, yes. Oh I have big hope as a human being. I believe in humans. I believe that people are good.”
In a land splintered by contested physical borders and deep wells of distrust, Juliano Mer-Khamis described himself as “100 percent Palestinian and 100 percent Jewish.” The 52-year-old actor and activist was slain last week in Jenin, where he ran The Freedom Theatre, an arts program and cultural center for local youth in Jenin Refugee Camp.
The son of an Israeli-Jewish mother and a Palestinian-Christian father, Juliano Mer-Khamis refused to choose one identity over the other. As an adult, he kept a residence in Haifa, on the Israeli side, as well as in Jenin. Even his funeral transcended borders; pallbearers carried his casket across the Jalama checkpoint from Israel into the West Bank so that Palestinian mourners could participate.
In 2006, Juliano Mer-Khamis described his work with The Freedom Theater as a kind of artistic intifada:
"…we believe that the strongest struggle today should be cultural, moral. This must be clear. We are not teaching the boys and the girls how to use arms or how to create explosives, but we expose them to discourse of liberation, of liberty. We expose them to art, culture, music — which I believe can create better people for the future, and I hope that some of them, some of our friends in Jenin, will lead … and continue the resistance against the occupation through this project, through this theatre."
Mer-Khamis was a controversial figure who seemed to be a clear-eyed realist about his life and work. In fact, he embraced this. “Lucky me,” he told PBS’ Need to Know.
"To be a theater and not controversial, then you should go open a clinic. Or be a dentist. We are a factory for controversy. We are the factory of ideas, of arguments of disputes. We are the factory where people should not like it. Otherwise, what are we doing here?"
The Arts Drive It Home for Me
Krista Tippett, host
One hangover from living for a time in England is that I am a devotee of BBC radio plays. Thanks to the wonderful world of the Internet, I can continue to listen. I’ll often put a play on in the background as I fold laundry or pay bills or even do busy work in the office.
This week, while we’ve been producing a program on the new science of “neuroeconomics” — exploring the physiology of trust and virtue in economic life — I stumbled on a series in this week’s BBC 4 “Afternoon Plays.” They deal with the human dynamics behind the Enron collapse — a subject on which our neuroeconomist guest Paul Zak has done extensive research.
These two plays were written by a noted British economics correspondent. The first, "Power Play," includes tapes from Senate hearings and the voice of figures like Enron’s CEO Kenneth Lay. The second, "Wilful Blindness," revolves around imagined discussions between Kenneth Lay and a former employee who turns up as his gardener in his Aspen home after this conviction.
I found intriguing echoes here with some of the insights not only of Paul Zak but also of Darius Rejali. A discussion between the gardener and the CEO about how good people are drawn into doing bad things is a wonderful example of how the arts can drive home big ideas as well as any erudite analysis — or illustrate them so that we can truly grasp them.
But, you better listen fast. The material goes offline in a few days!