A year ago today the actor, director and activist Juliano Mer Khamis, was shot dead as he left the compound of The Freedom Theatre in Jenin, Palestine.
His death came at a time when uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt were demonstrating that liberation is achievable, that revolution is a word that holds meaning beyond the metaphorical, and that mass political strength can surge across borders. It was a bitter reminder of how frail such strength can seem in the face of one man with a gun.
The killer has not been found, despite four separate investigations being carried out by security services in both Palestine and Israel. Juliano’s friends and colleagues are holding a demonstration at the Palestinian Police Headquarters in Ramallah today to demand answers.
Juliano co-founded The Freedom Theatre as a means of ‘joining, by all means, the liberation struggle of the Palestinians, which is our liberation struggle’. His border-defying identity, which he came to define as ‘100% Palestinian and 100% Jewish’, was expressive of a politics that was radical in its refusal to relinquish either the stance of empathy and openness, or utter commitment to resistance. Juliano was a man standing his ground with his arms wide open.
The Freedom Theatre is also a continuation of the legacy of Arna Mer, Juliano’s mother, who ran an educational project for children in the Jenin refugee camp until her death in 1995. Jul captured the depth of the relationship between Arna and the people she worked with in his film Arna’s Children.
Juliano’s own commitment to that relationship, its depth, and the promise it still holds, cannot be better expressed than in the words of the students he left behind last year:
Juliano, your mother’s children have passed away,
your mother Arna has passed away and so did you - but your children are going
to stay, following your path on the way to the freedom battle, and we will go
on with your revolution’s promise, the Jasmine revolution.
The Revolutionary message will not pass away. It will come storming the yellow sands and the mountains covered by almond trees, blowing the jasmine revolution out of the freedom fighter’s hands, from here, from the Freedom Theater’s stage, where men were and are made to be free and engaged in the cultural revolutionary battle for Freedom.
In thousands of silences only one violin is playing, and in thousands of silences only one voice is raising up, it’s the freedom fighters’ voices, to whom you taught how to carry the cultural gun on their shoulders.
Juliano's Children, April 4th 2011
In the year since his death The Freedom Theatre has not stood still, even in grief. New projects are underway such as The Freedom Bus, a particularly Freedom Theatre take on the segregation-busting Freedom Rides. To mark the anniversary of Juliano’s death some of his students – his ‘children’ – will perform in Israel at the Jaffa Theatre and in Haifa where Juliano’s wife Jenny lives with their three children. Juliano’s border-defying identity by no means died with him.
Juliano (centre) takes a bow with the cast of Alice in Wonderland on the stage of The Freedom Theatre in March 2011. Image: Lazar Simeonov/ Demotix