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April 4: Juliano Mer-Khamis and the Jenin Freedom Theater

April 4, 2013

julianomerkhamisJuliano Mer-Khamis, a film and television actor and director who was a co-founder of the Freedom Theater in Jenin, was gunned down by a masked assassin in that town on this date in 2011. Mer-Khamis’ father, an Israeli Arab, had been a leader of the Israeli Communist Party in the 1950s; his mother Arna, an Israeli Jew, had founded with Mer-Khamis the Stone Theater for Palestinian youth in 1989, as portrayed in his film, Arna’s Children (2003). In 2006, he established the Freedom Theater along with Zakaria Zubeidi, a former military leader of the Jenin Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, and two Swedish-Israeli artists. The theater mobilized young people in the Jenin refugee camp to use art as a tool of social change. It was widely criticized in the Palestinian community for mixing young men and women together on stage, advocating for Palestinian women’s rights, questioning the fetishism of violence, and airing issues that are rarely discussed publicly in Palestinian society. No one has been tried for killing Mer-Khamis, who described himself as “100 percent Palestinian and 100 percent Jewish.” His wife, Jenny Nyman, was pregnant with twins at the time of his assassination.

"He was aware of the danger and, although he joked about it, he was sometimes afraid. But he always said that he would rather die on his feet than live on his knees." —Jenny Nyman