One year ago today, as I sat on a bus heading from New York to Philadelphia, in the middle of my book tour for The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian’s Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker, my cell phone rang. It was my friend Yousef Munayyer. I assumed he was calling about the book reading we were organizing a few days later at the Jerusalem Fund/Palestine Center.
But Yousef was calling to let me know about what he was seeing unfold on the ticker of an Arabic news site. An Israeli theatre director had just been shot and killed in Jenin Refugee Camp in the West Bank, the ticker said. There was no name yet. And it had not yet hit the Hebrew or English press. I didn’t need the name to know. It was Juliano Mer-Khamis, co-founder of The Freedom Theatre in Jenin Refugee Camp. There was no one else it could have been.
First response, as my first response always is: Try to get more information. Figure out who needs to be told, what needs to be done.
When the emotions came, they were as complex as my feelings about Juliano. It would be an overstatement to call him a friend, though I had socialized with him on many occassions. It didn’t feel accurate to call him a colleague, though I had worked with him for years on the board of the US based Friends of the Jenin Freedom Theatre. I respected Juliano greatly, and admired him deeply—though I don’t think I ever communicated that to him. But he also frustrated and alarmed me at times. In fact, the last time I saw Juliano, my co-board members and I argued with him for hours. I left The Freedom Theatre in Jenin Refugee Camp the following morning with a sense of impending doom. I had no idea, however, that the doom would take the form three months later of a masked assailant pumping bullets at close range into Juliano’s head and chest outside the theatre.
One year later, and Juliano’s murderer has not been apprehended.
One year later, and Juliano’s colleagues and students at The Freedom Theatre are still dealing with the loss and the trauma, including the continued trauma of being targeted by the Israeli military in repeated attacks against the theatre and its staff and students.
Yet one year later, remarkably, The Freedom Theatre continues. And continues to use art as a powerful form of protest and resistance.
I hope you will take a moment to remember (or learn about) Juliano.
I hope you will find ways to support and stand in solidarity with the courageous staff and students of The Freedom Theatre.
In a video I made for The Freedom Theatre, Juliano says: “At the end, there’s a feeling that the spirit is here—it’s already seeded. And it’s going to only grow. And I don’t believe that someone, or anyone, can stop it.”
It was exactly that spirit that the still-unknown assailant was trying to destroy when he stepped out of the shadows, pumped Juliano full of lead, and then disappeared back into the alleys of the refugee camp.
The assailant did not succeed. And more than ever, we must work for the spirit of freedom and artistic resistance that Juliano seeded so passionately, to continue to grow.
JEN MARLOWE is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, author, playwright, human rights advocate, and founder of donkeysaddle projects. Her new book, The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian’s Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker, co-written with and about Palestinian peace activist Sami Al Jundi, has just been published by Nation Books. Her previous book was Darfur Diaries: Stories of Survival. Her email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org