Il s’appelait Juliano Mer-Khamis et nourrissait un dessein déraisonnable et inconvenant: rapprocher les peuples israélien et palestinien. Son projet n’avait rien de la mièvrerie des rencontres sportives organisées à des centaines de kilomètres du théâtre des opérations. C’est au contraire dans le camp de réfugiés de Jénine, dans le nord de la Cisjordanie, ancien “bastion du terrorisme” selon la terminologie israélienne du début de la deuxième intifada, que cet Israélien volontiers provocateur avait décidé de porter le fer de convictions héritées d’un couple de parents communistes eux-mêmes sangs mêlés (Arna Mer et Saliba Khamis).
Contre vents et marées, il y avait défendu le théâtre ouvert en 1989, en pleine première intifada, par sa mère et rasé au cours de la seconde après l’assaut donné en avril 2002 au lieu où s’étaient retranchés des miliciens palestiniens. Selon l’AFP, ce militant a été assassiné lundi 4 avril dans ce même camp de Jénine par un groupe d’hommes armés.
L’une des dernières brèches encore ouvertes du conflit israélo-palestinien vient de se refermer. Dans le sang
Acteur et réalisateur, Juliano Mer-Khamis avait consacrée à l’oeuvre de sa mère emporté en 1995 par un cancer, un documentaire extraordinaire: Les enfants d’Arna (voir un extrait ci-dessous). Sans nul doute le meilleur film pour comprendre la seconde intifada.
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arts & Culture Remembering Juliano
By Nihal Rabbani
When I first heard that Juliano Mer-Khamis was killed last Monday, the announcement read like a misprint. Even though I knew it was true, I waited for someone to reveal that it was a hoax. Like everyone, I felt too stunned and bewildered to process this bizarre news before pausing for a few hours, numbed with disbelief.
Before night fell, the reality still hadn’t sunk in. I hardly knew anyone in Amsterdam who shared personal memories of him, as images of Jule’s (as everyone called him) intense face and loud, penetrating voice ran through my mind like shuffle cards. I tracked down a mutual friend in Haifa, who felt even more disoriented by the blow. After attending a memorial service held on the night of Jule’s death, he exclaimed, “We don’t even know how to deal with it!”
I emailed my friend’s wife, who I had met in Juliano’s company at our local Haifa pub and shared my grief with her. The next day, I contacted a mutual friend of Jenny’s (Jule’s wife), who I’d met in Palestine. By then, the recollections finally started to settle and I was ready to mourn him.
Friends who were close to Jule, others who casually knew him, people who had only heard of or admired him and all those who had hoped to, one day, collaborate with Jule at the Freedom Theatre – we were all struck by the same brutal, communal shock. His family extended beyond his lover, children, unborn twins, brothers and mother of his daughters. They were the Palestinian community in Israel, the Freedom Theatre in Palestine, friends from the local pub in Haifa, his many comrades and acquaintances spread throughout the world and the thousands of people who were touched by his cause after watching “Arna’s Children”.
I was alerted to Jule’s spark long before I’d ever heard of the work of his late mother Arna. The first time I saw him was during the height of the first Intifada in the late eighties, on my parents’ television screen in Holland. A particularly handsome and charismatic man of the theatre appeared, mesmerising and captivating the viewers as if he were juggling us with his hands. He demanded our attention with a cheeky twinkle in his eyes, as if to say, “You will never forget me”. Even though I was only nineteen years old at the time, I never did forget him.
At the time, he was one of the few people I’d heard of who came from a “Palestinian-Jewish” background. His heart had not yet been captured by Jenin. Jule was a street performer, an actor and a bohemian artist. He charmed the viewers with his complex story, which he was already sharing with the conviction that he was lucky to be in such a unique position. One thing that struck me is that he seemed fearless and invincible.
Jule explained that his parents were communists and that he was born into a “forbidden” love story that had turned sour. He spoke openly about being a former paratrooper in the IDF, concluding that his decision was influenced by the hostile manner that his Palestinian father treated his Jewish mother, which is something that I never heard him mention again.
Over the years, however, he claimed that he didn’t regret his “mistake” because it taught him to dissect Israeli society through the training he received from an elitist army unit. I had mixed feelings about his justification because I was aware of the malicious attacks that Israeli paratroopers perpetrated on innocent civilians. On the other hand, I acknowledged that when Jule came of age, he must have felt conflicted between two of the most volatile identities in the Middle East and that his Israeli high school environment peer-pressured him into picking the stronger side of the fence.
Whether or not I agreed with this, the truth of the matter is that if he hadn’t joined the military (which consequently placed Jule in prison for disobeying orders), I doubt he would have witnessed the injustices that prompted his conscience to eventually support the underdog. At best, Jule might have become a moderate Israeli who dodged his Arab roots, which still would have been a rebellious reflex towards his parents’ leftist views. He probably would not have been transformed into a proud Jewish Palestinian who celebrated both sides of his cultural, religious and ancestral identity.
In 1994, six years after his television appearance, I visited my parents’ home town, Haifa, for the first time. I met with Palestinian friends at an Israeli bar called ‘Olam Moze’, translated as ‘One World’, which was one of the few places that welcomed “Arabs”. When my friends mentioned that they had seen Jule perform nudist street theatre, I figured that he was the same guy I’d seen in the interview. Even then, he didn’t allow barriers to disrupt his artistic self-expression.
Exactly a year after my first trip to the ‘Homeland’ in 1994, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was shot dead. The peace trick vanished. The second Intifada started five years later and ended in 2004, which was the same year that I returned to Haifa. This time around, Palestinians from the diaspora (like myself) and residents who were reduced to being labelled as “Arab Israelis” felt even less welcome at Israeli establishments.
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