Tuesday, April 5, 2011

In Memorium for Juliano Mer-Khamis

The global theater community has lost a great advocate for peace. Juliano Mer-Khamis, Artistic Director of the Freedom Theater in the Jenin Refugee Camp, was shot five times by masked gunmen on Monday April 4, 2011. This is a man who was creating theater that was so powerful, it warranted bullets.

This is an excerpt from a paper I wrote last semester on the Khamis' work which I greatly admire.

Khamis and The Freedom Theatre sought to fill a phenomenal cultural void in Jenin. In Khamis’ words, “this is a people in hunger, not for bread, but in hunger for lights, for music, for something except the sewage of the camp and the tanks.” Theater and arts provide needed leisure for people of all ages living under the stress of occupation. Freedom Theater believes in “utilizing the magic and fantasy of theatre to offer some respite for a population that continues to live in a daily reality of violence, aggression and almost total isolation.” The impact of this theater cannot be overstated. Over 16,000 people were in attendance at over 64 performances in 2009. Giving these refugees an opportunity to escape, to go to imaginary places improves the quality of daily life. Theater feeds the soul in a place with tremendous poverty of spirit and hope. Now in it’s 4th season, The Freedom Theater is busting at the seams and money is the main limitation. A practical man, Khamis tried to keep the community grounded in reality:
They say, ‘The Freedom Theatre, oh, it’s gonna be big, Jenin!’ [I say,] ‘Wait, wait, we don’t have money to pay the bills or the electricity.’ They say, ‘yeah, but we must dream!’ I say, ‘OH!’ I didn’t hear the word dream for a long time here. So hope is there.