By Cindy and Craig Corrie
(Haifa, Israel) – Word of the murder of Juliano Mer-Khamis, founder of the Jenin Freedom Theatre, spread quickly through the internet, through activist circles, and through Haifa – this Mediterranean city in northern Israel where we are staying for the trial in our daughter’s case, and where Mer-Khamis sometimes lived. As we departed Massada Street that evening, friends hailed us from a cafe owned by one of Juliano’s comrades. They had come to join others who needed the comfort of fellow mourners that night. Juliano’s intense, determined, handsome face (projected in photos hung in each of the cafe’s several windows) confronted those who passed by on the narrow sidewalk and street outside. Some stopped before the cluster of burning votive candles that filled a table below one of the portraits, and bent over them to light more. A week later, black stenciled portraits of Juliano and the words “Arna’s son” have appeared on exterior walls throughout the city.
Our family has entered a bit into the mourning. It is another terrible, senseless loss – one that strikes at the hearts of peace-with-justice-seeking-communities throughout Israel, in Palestine, and beyond. We hear that Juliano (“Jules” to some of our friends who knew him best) was a larger than life figure whose presence dominated any setting. Contrary to what occasional critics charge about his allegiances, he is reported to have told Israeli radio, “I am 100% Palestinian and 100% Jewish.” It was this bridge he provided, as well as his passion and courage that seem to have engaged and inspired many others. It is, also, all that he and his mother, Arna Mer, stood for and acted upon – opposition to the occupation, freedom for Palestinians, coexistence, and the freeing of spirits and minds through creative work.
While the search for responsible parties and for explanations of Juliano’s murder continues, there can be no question that the disintegration of hope, trust, and civility generated by decades of oppression and occupation, and by the current climate in Israel/Palestine, as well, form the context.
We are told that as Juliano taught and encouraged the youth of Jenin refugee camp to process their experiences and to find their voices through theater, he insisted that they identify and claim hope, along with their pain. It is challenging to find hope in the wretched act that snuffed out Juliano Mer-Khamis’ life, but it seems to exist in the energy he cultivated and in the voices he trained who refuse now to allow his light – or their own – to be extinguished.
We always wanted to visit Jenin and the Freedom Theater, but still have not done so. During earlier trips to the region, getting there was always unpredictable and a long journey from Jerusalem because of checkpoints and closures. More recently, the demands of the trial in Haifa have kept us away. We did spend a morning with Juliano in New York some years ago, when he was speaking there about the Freedom Theater and raising funds for it. Because of that brief encounter over coffee, we felt we knew him a bit more personally, which made word of his murder last Monday even more unsettling. We are so sorry for this loss – for Juliano, for his wife and children, for his family and friends, and for us all. We want to go to Jenin, and we will – to visit the theater, to feel Juliano’s presence there, and to hear from the children.
Just a short distance up the street from the Haifa cafe where we often congregate, there is a large graffitied sign that reads, “Juliano, R.I.P.” It is a sentiment we share. May Juliano Mer-Khamis rest peacefully knowing that his spirit lives and that we all continue his work.
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