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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: Theater

WEST BANK: Pro-Palestinian Israeli filmmaker killed in West Bank city


Israeli-born filmmaker and actor Juliano Mer-Khamis, 52, was shot dead in the northern West Bank city of Jenin on Monday.

It was not clear who was responsible, but some Palestinians believe the perpetrators may be among  those opposed to the liberal cultural activity Mer-Khamis had brought to Jenin and his role in building the Freedom Theater in 2006.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad condemned the killing, describing it as “hideous crime” and promising to bring to justice those responsible.

Khamis was born in Nazareth, northern Israel, to a Palestinian father, Saliba Khamis, one of the leaders of the Israeli Communist Party, and a Jewish mother, Arna Mer, a peace activist who had worked with children in the Jenin refugee camp after the first Palestinian intifada, or uprising, in the early 1990s.

Juliano Mer-Khamis lived with his mother in the Jenin refugee camp for several periods.

Apart from starting the Freedom Theater in Jenin, Mer-Khamis also directed the film "Arna’s Children" (2004), which tells the story of his mother and the struggle of Palestinians in Jenin in the face of Israel's occupation. He also acted in Julian Schnabel's new movie, "Miral," which was recently presented at the United Nations amid protests from Israel.

His last directed work is the locally produced Arabic play, "The Chairs," which had its debut at Ramallah’s Kasaba theater on Sunday.

George Ibrahim, director of Kasaba theater and who performed in "The Chairs," said he was shocked when he heard the news of Mer-Khamis’ death. He accused people who were against seeing Palestinian cultural activities in the city of being behind the killing, but without naming them. He was clearly referring to fundamentalists who saw in the Freedom Theater a liberalization of a traditional and conservative Muslim society.

The Freedom Theater itself had come under attack twice in the past and a Jenin-based music school was set fire to at one point, giving some credence to Ibrahim’s charges.

“We will not allow, under any circumstances, the return to chaos and lawlessness,” said Prime Minister Fayyad in his statement.

Armed gunmen had at one point controlled the Palestinian streets until Fayyad, who took office in mid-2007, had in a short time put an end to this phenomena and brought stability and rule of law to the Palestinian territories.

— Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank

Photo: People, carrying images of Juliano Mer-Khamis, hold a protest in Ramallah, West Bank, over his killing. Credit: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

IRAN: Tehran staging of 'Galileo' reflects a nation's struggle against 'ignorance,' 'ancientness' [Corrected]


Will the truth triumph over superstition and dogma?

That was the question hovering in a Tehran theater Sunday afternoon as 14 men and women in black clothes circled around the astronomer Galileo Galilei in director Dariush Farhang's sometimes nightmarish, politically loaded rendition of the 1943 play "The Life of Galileo" by German playwright Bertolt Brecht.

[Corrected, Feb. 2, 2010, 3:13 a.m. PST: Galileo was an astronomer, not an astrologer, as previously written.]

The Italian astrologer was forced to renounce his scientific conclusion that the Earth circled the sun because his work conflicted with church doctrine.

Among those surrounding the scientist on the darkened stage during the nightmare sequence are members of an inquisition committee that is a premonition of a catastrophe for the scientist and mathematician who tried to get people to look at the heavens with their own eyes, and not through the prism of faith. 

A guillotine stands in the right corner of the stage at the City Theater. 

Twice it is used, once during the nightmare sequence and at the end of the play when Galileo is forced to renounce his scientific findings in a show trial.

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