Jadaliyya is tremendously saddened to report the death of Juliano Mer
Khamis earlier today. Juliano, 52, who was the Artistic Director of
The Jenin Freedom Theater and the co-director of the award-winning
documentary Arna's Children, was shot by unknown assailants in Jenin
as he was leaving the theater. We offer our deepest condolences to his
family, his friends, and all who worked with him and loved him.

Juliano was born in Nazareth in 1958. He was the son of Saliba Khamis,
a Palestinian citizen of Israel who was at one time the secretary of
the Israeli Communist Party, and Arna Mer Khamis, a Jewish Israeli who
spent her youth in the Palmach but became an anti-Zionist activist and
a fearless fighter for peace, justice, and human rights. In
interviews, Juliano would tell a story that marked the "racial lunacy"
into which he was born: his mother went into labor while taking part
in a protest against the imposition of martial law on Palestinian
villages in Israel. She was rushed to the hospital, "but the doctors
refused to stitch her and she nearly bled to death," he said. "They
knew she was married to an Arab."

Growing up, Juliano for a time adopted his Jewish maternal name and
joined an elite fighting unit of the IDF. "For a whole year my father
wouldn't talk to me. He simply kept silent," he told an interviewer.
But in 1978, while stationed in Jenin, he refused an order to forcibly
remove an elderly Palestinian man from a car and ended up in a fight
with his commanding officer. He was imprisoned for a few weeks and
then left the army. Ultimately, he came to identify himself, as he put
it in 2009, by stating: "I am 100 percent Palestinian and 100 percent

He worked extensively as an actor in film, television, and stage,
beginning in the 1980s; during this time, he also began to work with
his mother on the original Freedom Theater project in Jenin. Funded in
part by the prize money that Arna Mer Khamis was awarded when she won
the Alternative Nobel Prize, the theater was part of a larger project,
"Care and Learning," set up by Arna and a number of volunteers in the
Jenin Refugee Camp. She was the vision behind the project until her
death in 1994.

In 2003, Juliano collaborated with Daniel Daniel to produce and direct
the documentary Arna's Children. The film lovingly documented the work
of The Freedom Theater, and the lives of the children from Jenin who
participated in the plays and theater workshops. The film is also a
document of the horrific destruction visited upon the Jenin Refugee
Camp when it was invaded by Israeli forces in April 2002, and an
account of the Battle of Jenin fought against this invasion. Following
the lives and deaths of the young people who participated in The
Freedom Theater, as well as the destruction of the theater itself in
the Israeli invasion, the film was regarded by many as a masterpiece,
and was awarded the Best Documentary Feature prize at the 2004 Tribeca
Film Festival. In the words of one reviewer, the film is "a work of
art, because it was made with a trembling hand, with the stammer of
someone who does not know whom to mourn most: his mother, the boys
from the Jenin camp or the trampled hopes of people yearning to be

It is also a film made with tremendous courage and honesty, two
virtures that were the trademark of Juliano's art. Elias Khoury wrote
of Arna's Children: "It was not an ordinary film. I do not know from
where Juliano drew the courage and bravery to create this masterpiece,
which appeared before my eyes as a testimony stronger than both life
and death together."

The reaction to Arna's Children helped lead to the possibility of
rebuilding and expanding The Freedom Theater in Jenin. In 2006, the
theater opened its doors, and since then, it has offered a wide
variety of workshops and other opportunities to young people in the
camp, along with training in filmmaking, and the first Acting School
in Palestine was opened at The Freedom Theater in 2008. The theater
has also produced a number of plays, including Men in the Sun and
Animal Farm. The theater's most recent production, Alice in
Wonderland, co-directed by Juliano, opened in January to
standing-room-only crowds and rave reviews. All this constitutes a
rare legacy, achieved through a tremendous collective effort, and
Juliano was the visionary behind it all.

Juliano Mer Khamis was a fearless artist, and a fearless human being.
Arna's Children and The Freedom Theater are only the two most visible
parts of his legacy, a legacy that bespeaks the role artistic creation
can play even amidst the most horrible depths of injustice and
suffering. "The Freedom Theatre will provide the children of the camp
a tranquil environment to express themselves and create," he wrote,
describing the vision of the theater in 2006. To imagine the
possibility of opening up a space of tranquility, of expression, and
thus of possibility, in Jenin Refugee Camp, whose name has become
synonymous with the most vicious and destructive brutality of the
occupation, might be seen as madness. Its very existence is a
testament to the power of the artistic tradition that Juliano embodied
with such beauty and power.

In Arna's Children, Juliano documented, tenderly and fearlessly, the
many ways that martyrdom comes to the young artists of Jenin camp. He
showed us that every life lost in Jenin needed to be seen and
understood as an unspeakable tragedy worthy of our remembrance. As
Khoury wrote, so movingly, on the establishment of The Freedom Theater
in Jenin: "It stands on ground laid down by the child martyrs, who
found that the meaning they learned in Arna's theatre led them in
their early youth to create the epic of Jenin Refugee Camp, through
its heroic resistance in 2002. These are the children who we watched
in the film Arna's Children, dying and their blood covering their
dream of becoming actors and artists. They are the true owners of The
Freedom Theatre in Jenin Refugee Camp." Juliano has joined them. The
loss of his voice is an irreplaceable one.

Arna's Children can be purchased on DVD here
(http://www.thefreedomtheatre.org/support-buy.php), with all proceeds
donated to The Freedom Theater in Jenin.