The murder of Arna’s child

Israel/Palestine
on 11 Comments

Juliano Mer-Khamis made the movie Arna’s Children about his mother’s Jenin theatre company, the children he taught there when young, and what became of them.

When I told my 21-year-old daughter Ana about Juliano’s death she could just not figure out why. She said more eloquently than I can precisely quote: “Why would they murder someone who was trying to heal people, trying to use a peaceful means to resolve issues or using acting and art as a way for people to explore their lives.” She could simply not understand why the director of this beautiful and moving theatre in Jenin, where she had spent a full day about a year ago, had been murdered. We had driven to Jenin from East Jerusalem. Jenin was different than other West Bank cities we had visited. Pictures of Palestinian “martyrs” were on the lampposts and there were Palestinian military on the corners with large weapons. While I always felt safe, this was clearly a militant Palestinian city. And of course, it was the home of the Jenin refugee camp that had been brutally attacked by Israel in April 2002.

But the theatre was like an oasis. We parked our car in the front of a building built of Jerusalem limestone and spent a remarkable day. Part of it was with, a young man, who taught photography. Many of his students were women and their large color photos were mounted in an exhibition hall. Each one told a story. Sometimes it was of oppression within their own family—there was a particularly strong photo of a very ripe tomato split in half, its red juice flowing on to the pavement and symbolizing the blood shed in an honor killing; sometimes it was the oppression of the Israelis and the inability of the refugees to return to their villages symbolized by a fish looking bug eyed out of a fish bowl. Each was the story of a young photographer grappling with a difficult reality. We asked the teacher how it was for the teenagers when they returned to their homes in the camp. He said it was difficult, especially for the girls. They were doubly or triply oppressed: oppressed within their families, by the Israelis and sometimes by the Palestinian government as well. Ana was so moved by the photographs that she asked the teacher to send them. She reproduced them digitally and had a small photo show at her college.

The teacher himself had his own story of oppression. He showed us one of his student movies, for while he was a photo teacher he was also a movie student. The movie was about his teen age sister who had dared to speak to a boy at school. When he heard about it from friends, he came home and hit his sister. It was a shocking scene because there we were sitting next to this wonderful, gentle man. But he had learned and the movie was part of his long apology to his sister.

We also saw part of the Animal Farm play. It was based on the Orwell book, but in this version the human oppressors were the Israelis and the animals the Palestinians. As the animals revolt and take over, they eventually oppress their own people. But this was not politics grafted on to a play. This was Juliano and others working with the young people to bring out their own experiences of oppression and anger and act them out in the play. However, the political message could not be missed. The PA (Palestine Authority) was the oppressor. I asked Juliano how the PA let him get away with it. He said, they would come to performances, sit in the front row, sometimes laugh, but let him and the theatre be.

We then had a long lunch with Juliano and his partner. They recently had a baby. Juliano was a bear of man and affectionate. He talked and talked about his life, his acting career and his theatre. And politics. Let there be no doubt, he was highly political. While he opposed Zionism, he was not enamored of the PA. He understood the power of theatre and art to transform people’s lives. When I think of his murder, of course, I think of this wonderful man and his young child who will not get to know and love him. I also think of the scores if not hundreds of young people, like those we met at Jenin, who may no longer be able to move from repression and anger to the place where Juliano hoped his theatre could take them.

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11 Responses

  1. Avi
    April 4, 2011, 6:31 pm

    Jenin was different than other West Bank cities we had visited. Pictures of Palestinian “martyrs” were on the lampposts and there were Palestinian military on the corners with large weapons. While I always felt safe, this was clearly a militant Palestinian city. And of course, it was the home of the Jenin refugee camp that had been brutally attacked by Israel in April 2002.

    Before noticing the name of the writer, I could easily tell the the paragraph above was written by an American/Euro-centric person.

    It reminds me of the claim that Arabs in the Middle East do not have democracy due to society’s patriarchal structure.

    By their very nature, outsiders have little understanding of the conditions and realities they may witness.

    I certainly do not understand the phrase “Palestinain military on the corners with large weapons”. To reach towns in the West Bank, one must travel through Israeli military checkpoints which are manned by Israeli military with large weapons. Were the Palestinian weapons larger? Scarier?

    Why was Jenin “clearly a militant city”? Is Washington DC a militant city because of the Korean War memorial, the Vietnam War memorial and other monuments of American martyrdom?

    Why is martyrdom in parentheses? Palestinians call anyone who is killed by Israeli forces a martyr. Did Michael Ratner think they were all suicide bombers? Terrorists, as they are often called in the Israeli/US media?

    Has Michael Ratner ever been to any of the Palestinian refugee camps? The squalid conditions in which refugees live tend to affect everything in the vicinity, including the streets, the people, their homes.

    I was trying to avoid bringing this up given the context, but I find it hard to ignore this.

    • Lydda Four Eight
      April 5, 2011, 2:37 am

      I for one am glad you mentioned it. The tone of this troubled me as well, yet I too did not want to bring it up given the context. What troubled me most was the whole entire first paragraph. Who are the “they”? I felt as if all Palestinians, at least all in Jenin, were being blamed for Khamis’ death. “They” was used in the same way as “those people” is often employed, it creates an emotional and moral value distance, Ratner’s daughter with the rest of us decent folk and the undefined “they” (though it is ambiguously fleshed out a bit later in the paragraph when describing Jenin as a “militant Palestinian city”) left to you to patch together as the “militant” people of Jenin.

  2. ToivoS
    April 4, 2011, 7:14 pm

    This tragedy illustrate how difficult it is and is going to be to build a non-violent movement in the WB. War, any war not just the last 20 years of Israeli war against the Palestinians, is a breeding ground for sociopaths. It is true for all sides that people with this extreme personality disorder can rise to positions of prominence in their armies, cells, militias, whatever units.

    And they are the kinds of people that will easily gun down a non-violent person like Juliano either to make a political point or to remove the threat that non-violence poses to the sociopath. Anyway this is a depressing reminder about how easy it is to slip back into another cycle of mindless violence.

  3. longliveisrael
    April 4, 2011, 8:54 pm

    Interesting that there are only 2 comments on this matter as I write this.

    ToivoS refers to the killers as anomalies, as sociopaths. However, when a Palestinian is killed by an Israeli, what we see here are numerous comments about how all Israelis are evil killers.

    • Chaos4700
      April 4, 2011, 9:05 pm

      All ready to lynch Palestinians before a formal investigation starts, is that right? The reason more of us CAN’T comment on this thread is we’ve spent the whole day chasing around racist Israelis who are tromping all over Mondoweiss with torches and pitchforks, out for more Palestinian blood.

    • annie
      April 4, 2011, 10:52 pm

      when a Palestinian is killed by an Israeli, what we see here are numerous comments about how all Israelis are evil killers.

      do you have any supporting links wrt this assertion?

    • Avi
      April 4, 2011, 11:16 pm

      One need only read the Hebrew comments section on Ha-Aretz to see Israeli opinions. By and large, most of the comments can be summarized as follows:

      Look at those barbarians. We give them culture. We give them art. And what do they do? They go and throw it all away like animals in a barn. Arabs/Muslims will never change. The minute he was killed, I knew it was Muslims who did it. Everything about them is backward. Garbage. Let the world see what we have to put up with.

      Pretty revealing isn’t it?

    • ToivoS
      April 5, 2011, 3:01 am

      Actually longliveisrael when an Israeli kills a Palestinian he is most likely just carrying out state mandate, I doubt that the usual Israeli killer is a sociopath. Of course, there are those among the settlers and probably among the high level command in the IDF. Since the state of Israel has institutionalized this kind of killing, they can rely on normal citizens to carry it out. That is what the state of Israel has become.

  4. thetumta
    April 4, 2011, 8:58 pm

    How do you recognize a “non-violent person ” in the midst of a hellish firefight? I’m not talking about the Israelis and their easy ethnic cleansing. In these cases, a very lopsided one? You have seconds to decide what to do in the corner you’ve been painted into. When you’re young and easily influenced it’s easy. That’s why they chose you!
    Hej!

    • thetumta
      April 4, 2011, 9:24 pm

      Phil,
      This comment was about the following story? How did it appear here?
      Hej!

  5. thetumta
    April 4, 2011, 9:26 pm

    Did I get hasbared?
    Hej!

    PS Who’s running your site?

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