The Murder of Juliano Mer

By Ori Herstein

“The murder of whom?” you may ask. Of no one of great significance: a talented Israeli film and stage actor who was not particularly famous or well-known, not even by Israeli standards. Mer was gunned down in cold blood earlier this week (see here)

The masked murderer was most likely an Islamic fundamentalist. The assassination occurred in the Palestinian city/refugee camp of Jenin outside the “Freedom Theater,” a community theater Mer founded to bring culture and creativity to the largely bleak lives of the people and children of the Jenin refugee camp. The endeavor apparently angered local religious zealots because of its secular nature. Mer erected the Freedom Theater on the ruins of the theater previously run by his mother, which had also been devoted to the children of Jenin. Several of the children involved in that theater grew up to die in the second intifada. Some turned to terrorism (for a documentary on their stories see here). And still Mer persisted.

Mer’s mother was Jewish and his father an Israeli Arab. Mer was both and neither. He served in the Israel Defense Forces as a paratrooper yet was an activist on the radical left. Mer was larger than life, a bridge between the two peoples built on the values of creativity, art and beauty. He transcended the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; he epitomized what the region could have been like but alas never was and perhaps never will be. His murder is so shocking and so disturbing because it captures the hopelessness of it all: a symbolic snuffing out of what was a glimpse of a post-nationalistic and humanistic alternative; another instance of the barbarism and the dullness that are flooding the land, slowly eroding all value and drowning us all. I often think about my Palestinian counterparts. Those gentle souls who want no part in all this. What would I say to them?

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
(From Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach, 1867)