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By Nathalie Handal

This poem is dedicated to my friend and colleague Juliano Mer Khamis, born in Nazareth in 1958 and Artistic Director of the Jenin Freedom Theater. He was tragically shot by unknown assailants in Jenin yesterday as he was leaving the theater. His two-year-old son was in the car with him. Juliano was the son of a Palestinian father, Saliba Khamis, and of a Jewish Israeli mother, Arna Mer Khamis. He says of his birth, “doctors refused to stitch her (Arna) and she nearly bled to death . . . They knew she was married to an Arab.” His mother became an anti-Zionist activist and a tireless human rights fighter. She was awarded the Alternative Nobel Prize. The money from this prize partly funded the original Freedom Theater, which opened in 1988—set up by herself, Juliano, and numerous volunteers in the Jenin Refugee Camp. She died in 1994. In 2003, Juliano in collaboration with Daniel Daniel produced and co-directed the documentary Arna's Children. The film is about the children who participated in the Freedom Theatre and the horrific Israeli invasion of Jenin in April 2002, which killed many of them and destroyed the theater. It was awarded the Best Documentary Feature Prize at the 2004 TriBeCa Film Festival. In 2006, the theater reopened. Juliano’s fierce determination and devotion, tremendous efforts, and bravery, represented hope and was an emblem of what collective effort can produce. He was a force. His spirit will continue to roam among us. And he will not rest until we all join and help keep his vision alive—“The Freedom Theatre is a venue to join the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation. We believe that the Third Intifada should be cultural, with poetry, music, theatre, cameras and magazines.”

To Juliano Mer Khamis

This is to you
who came to us with the thirst of a river
This is to you
who delivered wings, then praise,
then a thousand hands on a stage
This is to you
who deafened conflict
like a wall of whispers
building a different nation
you lined them up—Fatima, Mohammad, Yasir, Sahar
said, departure starts the first place you create
the word has a way
the way a sign
the sign a heart
the heart a place
a place that places parts
into what can’t be disturbed
This is to you
who held a village on a whisper
whispers in a butterfly
your mother in a rose
your father everywhere trees grow
don’t follow the stray souls
don’t follow death
you’ve rehearsed it enough
all the plays that lie in between
here you gathered wounds and made a stage
gathered curtains and made a museum
here you took the distance away from eyes
the hard beating of drums away from ears
and you forced fire to burn elsewhere
This is to you
This is to your son
who will never forget the sound of 5 bullets
or the blood drowning the seat
but who will remember first how you played
This is to you who told us
to ask death questions
This is to you
This is to you
This is to you
who created freedom on a stage

Watch Juliano, in his own words:

Published Apr 5, 2011   Copyright 2011 Nathalie Handal

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