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On the Death of Juliano Mer Khamis: Man of the Theatre, Brother and Visionary

R.Arnold/CentraltheaterCopyright: R.Arnold/Centraltheater
Freedom fighter Mer Khamis: The cultural world is in a state of shock (Photo: R.Arnold/Centraltheater)

9 April 2011

Rarely have so many Israelis and Palestinians been unified in grief as following the murder of Juliano Mer Khamis. On 4 April, the Middle East lost a beacon of hope and the Goethe-Institut lost a good friend. By Joerg Schumacher

Juliano Mer Khamis is dead. Only 52 years old, the Israeli theatre maker was shot on 4 April in front of his young son. With him, a small glimmer of the tiny bit of hope in the Middle East died. The Süddeutsche Zeitung mourns the “bridge-builder sitting on all the broken fences,” and the Tagesspiegel wrote, “The heart of Jenin has stopped beating.”

Dismay and sorrow were also the reactions at the Goethe-Institut when we learned of the murder. Mer Khamis was both a friend and a project partner. Together with the Freedom Theatre, which was directed and founded by Mer Khamis, the Goethe-Institut regularly organized projects such as a stage design workshop with German stage designer Florian Etti. The evening of his murder, a ten-day film workshop was scheduled to begin in Jenin with filmmakers from Germany. A day before, Mer Khamis had opened the Al-Kasaba theatre festival in Ramallah with Ionesco’s The Chairs .

Raised in Nazareth where he was born in 1958, the son of an Israeli Jewish mother, Arna Mer, and a Christian Palestinian, Saliba Khamis, like no one else Juliano Mer Khamis symbolized the torn state of this country. The Palestinian and Israeli cultural world is in a state of shock.

His death is an immeasurable loss for all who believe in the freedom of art and in peaceful resistance in the occupied territories. In the firm conviction that political freedom, individual freedom, freedom of the arts and equality of the sexes go hand in hand, Mer Khamis stood for the best in both Israeli and Palestinian society.

The Freedom Theatre, which Juliano Mer Khamis founded in 2006 in the Jenin refugee camp and with which he continued the work of his mother Arna in the Palestinian city, was far more than a theatre. It was an island of creativity in an ocean of little hope, a platform with film, theatre and computer course programmes, its own magazine and much more. For many children and young people in the refugee camp, the Freedom Theatre was the chief place to go where they could for the first time come into contact with the arts and culture.

Like a big brother, Juliano watched over the activities of his charges with dedication, understanding and authority. On the stage and in his life, Mer Khamis inspired his audience with charisma and a fascinating blend of masculinity and sensitivity. With a visionary’s passion, he positioned Jenin on the international theatrical scene and opened up opportunities for his pupils, colleagues and partners.

The consequences of Juliano Mer Khamis’s murder cannot yet be foreseen. It is now time for mourning. In the coming weeks, the theatre will have to decide how it will continue the work of Juliano Mer Khamis. The Goethe-Institut is determined and willing to accompany it on this stony path.
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