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Monday, April 18, 2011

Mer-Khamis' "Freedom Theatre" spawned terrorists

Two weeks ago, a new martyr was created. Juliano Mer-Khamis, who ran a drama club and theater for the youth of Jenin, was murdered by the very people he was said to be trying to help.

Condolences came from all over the world talking about how Mer Khamis and his mother, Arna, who created the theater were a ray of hope in Jenin, where they were teaching the young people there about how peace is better than bullets.

In reality, the theater was not only a failure, but its original members spawned an almost unbelievable amount of terror.

From The Globe and Mail, April 20, 2009 in an article that is sympathetic to the theater (no longer online, a copy is here):

The scene is 1989, the second year of the Palestinian intifada. Stone- throwing protests against Israeli occupation have spread throughout Gaza and the West Bank. In Jenin, the youthful protesters are joined by older militants who carry out armed attacks on Israeli soldiers and settlers. The Jenin camp´s schools are closed; its children have nowhere to turn.

Enter Arna Mer, a 59-year-old Jewish peace activist who had been born in a northern collective farm, fought as an 18-year-old to create the state of Israel, joined the Israeli Communist Party and married an Arab-Israeli activist. Since 1967 she had protested against the Israeli occupation and, by 1989, was determined to help the children of Jenin.

On the top floor of a house owned by a local widow name Samira Zubeidi, Ms. Mer opens a children´s drama school. Aided by her actor son, Juliano Mer Khamis, she forms a small troupe and provides an artistic and educational outlet for dozens of children, including Ms. Zubeidi´s sons, Zakariya and Daoud. For her efforts, Ms. Mer was awarded an alternative Nobel prize in 1993 and the prize money went to create a proper school facility.

The school would survive Ms. Mer´s death from cancer in 1996, and Mr. Mer Khamis´s departure – until 2002, that is, and the violence of the second intifada. It was destroyed when Israeli bulldozers levelled a section of the camp.

That´s when Mr. Mer Khamis would return and make an extraordinary film called Arna´s Children, using old and new video footage to show what had happened to those original young children his mother had nurtured.

Thirteen years after joining Ms. Mer´s company of children, all but one of the original troupe were dead: One had been so affected by the killing of a young girl, he launched a suicide attack on the Israeli town of Hadera; two had perished in the Battle of Jenin, killed in the theatre school´s rehearsal hall from where they had fired on advancing Israeli forces. One had become the Jenin leader of the al- Aqsa Martyrs´ Brigades militant group and was hunted down and killed.

Only Zakariya Zubeidi had survived. Imprisoned for throwing rocks, and again for throwing Molotov cocktails, he had been released after the 1993 Oslo Accords and joined the Palestinian police. He left the force, as a sergeant, disillusioned, he said, by the corruption he encountered.

In 2002, his mother and brother were killed when Israeli forces moved into Jenin camp. Once again, Mr. Zubeidi picked up a weapon.

He survived the intense battle in Jenin and, somewhat reluctantly, succeeded his friend as the leader of the al-Aqsa militants.

Mr. Zubeidi, his face still badly marked by a bomb of his own making, said in an interview last week that he did not approve of suicide missions, only military attacks on Israeli soldiers and settlers. High on Israel´s most wanted list, however, he somehow survived several assassination attempts.

In 2006, Mr. Zubeidi approached Juliano Mer Khamis, his old drama tutor and, by that time, an award-winning filmmaker, and urged him to reopen the theatre school.

Mr. Zubeidi, by this time a husband and father, said he wanted the next generation to find a better way to express itself.

I was fed up with the fighting,” he said. “It didn´t get us [Palestinians] anywhere.”
Arna's school had not resulted in a single original student supporting pacifism. Every single one of the original kids there became a militant.

It is hard to imagine that any random classroom of Palestinian Arab kids in the West Bank, or even in Gaza, would have such a stunning record of churning out terrorists.

Juliano's film, instead of castigating what was by any measure a catastrophic failure of the vision of his mother, romanticized it by claiming that Israeli measures are so bad that every single child was driven into terror, despite his mother's efforts.

From Mother Jones' tribute to Juliano and description of his film:

The film, shot over almost two decades, is set in the Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin, a place where Israeli bombs and tanks are inescapable realities of childhood. In the first half of the film, we are introduced to Juliano's mother, Arna, a Jewish Israeli who set up the theater group in Jenin in the late 1980s. Arna is bald from chemotherapy, yet devotes her dying days to her playful and talented little actors, helping them express their anger and grief through art and drama.

Years pass. Arna succumbs to cancer, the 1994 Oslo peace accords unravel, the theater program shuts down, the Israeli occupation hardens, and the 2000 second intifada erupts. On April 3, 2002, the Israeli army invades Jenin, killing more than 50 Palestinians and destroying hundreds of homes.

And many of "Arna's children" have now become militiamen and suicide fighters.

In the second half of the film, Juliano returns to Jenin to find out how and why this has happened. We see that it's not mainly about anti-Semitic brainwashing—Jenin residents adore Arna and Juliano despite their Jewish background and Israeli nationality. Rather, Arna's children have chosen "martyrdom" because of the searing horrors they've witnessed with their own eyes.

How can a youth program, supposedly meant to foster "peace" but that has a 0% success rate of creating peaceful people, be considered so wonderful?

Arna Mer-Chamis, if she really was trying to teach peace, was a spectacular failure. It is not possible for her to have been more of a failure. The last person alive from her kids, who now claims to want peace, didn't say he learned the idea from the Mer-Chamises - he just says that he was simply "fed up with fighting."

Which brings up the question: did the theater really promote peace in any sense at all?

Now Juliano Mer-Chamis, who created an entire movie trying to soft-pedal the terrorism of his mother's proteges, has become victim to something the leftists pretend doesn't exist - Palestinian Arab hate. His film, rather than showing the inherent culture of violence and hate that laughs at the idea of words replacing bullets, was a prophetic view of what his own end would look like.

No one is asking the question - if Mer Chamis was murdered by Palestinian Arabs for no good reason, then perhaps the terrorism that he justified in his movie is also for no reason, and not because of anything Israel does?

Too bad that those who watch the film have no capacity to look beyond the rosy, romantic notion of Palestinian Arab peacefulness and see the simple facts: the Palestinian Arab kids who were exposed to Western values became terrorists anyway. The same kind of terrorists that killed Juliano himself.

(h/t Silke, Giulio Meotti)