Juliano Mer-Khamis’s film Arna’s Children
This is terrible news. Juliano Mer-Khamis, the founder of the Jenin Freedom Theatre, director of Arna’s Children, and a beloved friend of many people close to this site, was killed in Jenin today. Mer-Khamis was a 53-year-old Israeli whose parents were Palestinian and Jewish; he struggled to give children under occupation a creative outlet and alternative to violent resistance. His theater was destroyed by the Israelis in 2002, and he rebuilt it with international support.
There will be so much said. I would just like to share this memory. It’s seven years ago, 2003. The Student Coalition at Tel Aviv University, an organization I co-founded, is staging a massive teach-out on the university square, trying to disrupt the normalcy of dozy lectures as the streets was burning.
At the end of a long, long day with lectures and arguments and songs and chants, as darkness fell on plush northern Tel Aviv, we screened Juliano’s film, “Arna’s children” – still, to my mind, the best documentary ever done about the occupation. We, some five hundred students sat in the outdoor auditorium, stunned. Before us, the “Palestinian gunmen” of the newscasts we knew since childhood – these footnotes in the reports, usually afforded no visuals, just “three Palestinian gunmen were shot in the West Bank today, IDF spokesman said. In other news…” – were coming to life as human beings, speaking about their childhood dreams, their slain comrades, their hopes or lack thereof for a future, sometimes as children, sometimes as grown, gun-wielding men, with children just like they used to be clustered around their knees. After the credits rolled and passed, the plaza was completely silent. One girl, a moderate centre-leftist from the campus chapter of Meretz, raised her hand. Juliano called her out. She got up and asked: “What can we do to help?”
This was the most humanizing, wall-shattering moment of my life.