Palestinians, artists and peace activists worldwide are mourning the loss of a leading figure in Palestinian creative nonviolent resistance. Juliano Mer-Khamis, the founder of a theater for Palestinian children, was killed Monday by masked assailants in the West Bank town of Jenin. He had received a number of death threats from extremist Palestinians for his work with the Jenin Freedom Theatre. The theater has helped Palestinian youths deal with the hardships of life under Israeli occupation by expressing themselves through the arts—film, photography, art and theater. We are joined in Jenin by Nabeel Raee, director of the Acting School at the Jenin Freedom Theatre, where he worked closely with Mer-Khamis for many years, and by Constancia "Dinky" Romilly, founder and president of the board of the New York City-based Friends of the Jenin Freedom Theatre, who also worked closely with the program in Jenin. [includes rush transcript]
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AMY GOODMAN: Palestinians, artists, peace activists worldwide are mourning the loss of a leading figure in Palestinian creative nonviolence resistance. Juliano Mer-Khamis, the head of a theater for Palestinian children, was killed on Monday in the West Bank town of Jenin. Khamis was shot five times by masked assailants. He had received a number of death threats from extremist Palestinians for his work with the Jenin Freedom Theatre.
The theater has helped Palestinian youths deal with the hardships of life under Israeli occupation by expressing themselves through the arts — film, photography, art, and most predominantly, the stage. Khamis had recently directed his students in a production of Alice in Wonderland.
Born to a Jewish mother and an Arab Christian father in Israel, Khamis was a well-known actor who appeared in a number of films. He opened the theater after its predecessor, founded by his mother, was destroyed in the 2002 Israeli assault on Jenin. Khamis was carrying his infant son when he was shot to death. He was just steps away from the Freedom Theatre. In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife, who is pregnant with twins.
We’re joined now by two guests. On the line from Jenin, Nabeel Raee is with us. He is the director of the Acting School at the Jenin Freedom Theatre, where he closely worked with Juliano for many years. And here in New York, Constancia "Dinky" Romilly. She is the founder and president of the board of the New York-based Friends of Jenin Freedom Theatre.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s go directly to Jenin. Nabeel, what happened yesterday? First, our condolences.
NABEEL RAEE: First, I want to say that it’s a big loss for Palestine and for the Palestinian culture, artists, the people who believe in art, and big loss for the children of Jenin refugee camp, the students that they are studying at the Acting School of the Freedom Theatre, staff of the Freedom Theatre. It’s is a big blow that we lost Juliano Mer-Khamis, the revolutionary, the thinker and the fighter.
What happened is more than we can imagine. It’s a murder. It’s a crime. The criminal was hiding behind his mask. When Juliano went out of the theater, when he was reading a text for a new play, a new production that we planned to do, and he stepped out of the theater, and like few meters out, the criminal came and shot him while he was holding his son. And next to him was the babysitter. And he got like more than six bullets in his chest. And he was trying to protect his son in the same time. So he died, and he protected his son.
This is more than a crime. This is like unusual. This is unbelievable. And excuse me for my words; I cannot really find words to describe my — the situation more than this. I mean, we’re all in shock, and we all really — this is what happened. It’s a crime. It’s a crime against all of us, against the humanity, against someone who tried to build with us, step by step.
AMY GOODMAN: Is there a sense who did this?
NABEEL RAEE: Sorry. Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Is there a sense, Nabeel, who did this?
NABEEL RAEE: We don’t know. The Palestinian Authority, the PA, the police, the friends, all the people, they’re investigating, and they’re trying to find out who did it. But until now, nothing is clear. And what I can say is, whoever was the criminal is someone who doesn’t know Juliano Mer-Khamis, doesn’t know — he, this person, I think if he knew this person, he wouldn’t do it. And I’m telling the people who’s behind him that they’re mistaking of killing him, because in this way they are not going to kill the spirit, because the spirit is there, and we’re going to continue after him.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Juliano Mer-Khamis in his own words. This was a promotional video he did for the Jenin Freedom Theatre. Juliano talked about the theater’s mission to help Palestinian youth resist occupation in a creative way.
JULIANO MER-KHAMIS: My name is Juliano, and I’m the director of the Freedom Theatre in Jenin refugee camp. The Freedom Theatre is a venue to join the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation. We believe that the Third Intifada, the coming intifada, should be cultural, with poetry, music, theater, cameras and magazines.
This place never had a theater. This place never was exposed to these arts. So, actually, we are building everything from scratch. We are building capacity, building of actors. We are building capacity, people of audience. You know, sometimes it’s easier to create actors than audience. We are dealing with the young generation to expose them to these arts.
The location of the Freedom Theatre — and don’t let this view to deceive you — we are sitting in the mid of the most attacked and poor refugee camp in Palestine: the refugee camp of Jenin. We are talking about almost 3,000 children under the age of 15 suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. It means they pee in their pants when they are 11. It means they cannot concentrate. They cannot deal with each other without violence.
AMY GOODMAN: Yes, that was Juliano Mer-Khamis in his own words. I wanted to turn now to "Dinky" Romilly. She is the president of the board of the New York-based Friends of Jenin Freedom Theatre. You worked closely with Juliano. Your thoughts today?
CONSTANCIA ROMILLY: Well, of course, we are heartbroken and horrified. The young people in the theater came pouring into the theater yesterday. And their message was, they won’t let this stop the important message of the Freedom Theatre, which is fighting against both the occupation, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and against the negative Islamist culture that is also oppressing people in the Jenin refugee camp and throughout the West Bank. They will carry on, and we will support them.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to end with Nabeel Raee, director of the Acting School there in Jenin at the Freedom Theatre. The latest news, Palestinian Authority security officials arrested a Hamas operative in Jenin suspected of involvement in Juliano’s murder. Several other suspects were arrested Monday night following the murder, many were released, IDF and PA security forces investigating the circumstances. Any more news, Nabeel?
NABEEL RAEE: Amy, I can tell the Palestinian Authority arrested more than 20 person to interrogate them. And I cannot tell —- now, really, we cannot say that some of the groups, the Palestinian groups, is behind this, unless we find out who is the person. And through the interrogation, we will find out who did that. But, I mean, without this, you cannot really tell who is behind it, who planned it, and what was the reasons. This is all the news. I mean, we’re holding ourselves as much as we can to know -—
AMY GOODMAN: Nabeel Raee, we’ll have to leave it there, and “Dinky” Romilly, thank you so much for being with us. Our condolences, all.