People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 19

May 08, 2011



Delhi Fondly Remembers Juliano Mer Khamis


                     Bratati Pande



The road is long like an ancient poet’s nights

Plains and hills, rivers and valleys

Walk according to your dream’s

measure: either a lily

Follows you or the gallows


IN a special tribute to the Israeli-Palestinian human rights activist and theatre personality, Juliano Mer Khamis , a number of theatre enthusiasts and activists in different fields gathered at the Sammukh Auditorium of National School of Drama (NSD) on April 30. On April 4, 2011 Juliano Mer Khamis  who
tried to bring hope in the lives of thousands of children suffering in the Palestinian refugee camps was brutally murdered in the West Bank, Gaza.      Khamis introduced himself to the world as a freedom fighter and not just a theatre activist. He was an
Israeli-Palestinian, the expression itself seems to be so contradictory! But he bore a peculiar mixed identity, his mother was an Israeli Jew and father a Palestinian Christian. Khamis was the director of the Freedom Theatre at Jenin Refugee camp trying
to bring some ray of hope in the lives of the Palestinian children devastated by constant Israeli violence.

 The meeting was anchored by theatre activist Sudhanva Deshpande.   Samik Bandyopadhyaya, theatre scholar and critic read some excerpts from his interview of Khamis. He started his tribute by saying that it is a matter of anguish and shame that we come to know of the work of a man only when he is no more! In his
interview of Juliano Khamis, Bandyopadhyaya asked him what induced the famous director-actor who acted in a number of movies not only Israeli , but also in Hollywood movies to renounce everything and start working at Jenin with refugee children. Juliano talked of three persons – a little girl in a Vietnamese village who lost everyone in
the family in American bombing but never lost faith in life, Che Guevara and his own mother Arna.

In fact, Khamis inherited the grit to do something to lift the spirit of the Palestinian children devastated by the Israeli attack day after day and living in the shadow of constant terror in refugee camps from his mother Arna. Arna was a woman of indomitable spirit- she was a terminal patient of cancer but the dreaded disease could not kill her spirit. She was so overwhelmed by the pathetic state of children in the Palestinian refugee camps that she decided that something had to be done to help them in expressing their feelings so that they could breathe like normal children!  And what could
be more appropriate than theatre? Arna started an alternative education system for the Palestinian children living the life of prisoners under the shadow of constant fear in Jenin, a refugee camp. She found theatre to be the best medium to help children in
expressing their anger, frustration, bitterness and fear. In the beginning, children were suspicious of her, an Israeli Jew. But with the passage of time they not only accepted her, some even said that she was like their mother.


Arna died in 1995 and the theatre activity at Jenin stopped. Arna’s son Juliano recorded the rehearsals of this theatre group for six years and then again went back to Jenin in 2002 to find out what happened to the children in the course of time. By now Juliano was a famous theatre personality.  This led to the famous documentary, Arna’s Children, in 2003. It turned out to be a highly acclaimed but controversial film. Many children, Juliano found, joined suicide squads to free Palestine from Israeli occupation. Many questioned the efficacy of theatre acting in containing violence. But Arna or Juliano were not out to reform the children, they wanted to give them a voice.

As long as there are atrocities committed on them, the reaction of children cannot change!    In his tribute to Juliano, Deshpande extensively used clippings from Arna’s Children and other films including his latest - Alice in Wonderland - a fantastic re-interpretation of Lewis Carroll’s famous creation to acquaint the audience to the genius of Juliano.    M K Raina started his tribute with the words that Juliano’s children are not an isolated lot , there are such children , the victims of violence and deprived of their childhood at many places including different parts of India like Kashmir and Manipur and we need many more Julianos to instil hope in them.


Mahmood Farooqui and Danish of Dastangoi (the lost art of story telling in Urdu) fame recited from the work of Faiz Ahmad Faiz. Dinesh Shukla recited from Darwish mainly to emphasise on the fact that the throttling of one voice by the assassins cannot throttle the voice of sanity!


Rahul Ram of Indian Ocean sang a song by Piyush Mishra which was appropriately used in the film Gulal and a popular number from his own team and requested the audience to join him. The audience joined enthusiastically.


The concluding remarks were made by the director of NSD, Anuradha Kapur who reiterated that theatre acting basically needs connecting with people and helps to raise the voice of sanity. Acting for the sake of acting is not its objective.


On the whole, the evening left a lasting impression in the hearts and minds of many who did not have any knowledge of the existence of such a powerful voice of sanity speaking on behalf of children with doomed childhood because of continuous violence perpetrated by Israeli occupation of Palestine. Long live Juliano Khamis!