There has been much emotion among Palestinians and pro-Palestine activists over the shocking murder of Juliano Mer-Khamis yesterday in Jenin. My Facebook page has been covered today with expressions of shock and sadness over the crime, and with testimonials to this impressive and admirable man. Those posting about him and the murder did not dwell on the possible identity of assassins or why they did it, though one may be sure that if there had been the slightest hint that they were Israeli—IDF, Shin Bet, Kahanists—pro-Palestine activists would have been white hot with rage, with this constituting further proof, if any were needed, of the perfidiousness of the Israelis. But as there was not the slightest doubt that they were Palestinian (unlike the murders at the Itamar settlement three weeks ago, which may or may not have been committed by Palestinians; we still don’t know), speculation on the identity and motives was muted. One Facebook friend, replying to a slightly irritated comment I posted on this, did say that the speculation centered on Hamas (or even “collaborators”), though more “mainstream” elements may have in fact been responsible.
In any case, this was a tragic loss. Mer-Khamis, in addition to his good works in Jenin, was, among other things, a fairly well-known actor in Israel (I’ve seen him in three films: Amos Gitai’s ‘Kippur’ and ‘Kedma’, and Julian Schnabel’s ‘Miral’, that I posted on the other day). But he was best known outside Israel-Palestine for his 2003 documentary, ‘Arna’s Children’, on his remarkable mother—whose life was cut short by cancer in 1995—and her work in the Jenin refugee camp. There is a consensus among pro-Palestinian activists that this is the most powerful documentary to date on the realities of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. A friend in Jerusalem sent me the YouTube link last year, wrote that she was blown away by the film, and urged me to watch it.
It was the third documentary I’d seen on Jenin over the past few years (another being Mohammed Bakri’s ‘Jenin, Jenin’). It was well-done and most interesting. What was striking about it was that it was filmed over a dozen year period, following the protagonists in the refugee camp from when they were nice, innocent children to disabused young adults who made the tragic decisions they did during the second Intifada (but who remained endearing individuals on the human level and to the end). There were inevitably gaps in the account—e.g. how and why they became fighters and if all other options were closed to them—but it did bear out the tragedy of the Palestinian condition, or at least of those in the refugee camps. But for me, it also laid bare the pathologies—yes, the pathologies—in Palestinian political culture: the cults of violence, weapons, vengeance, and martyrdom (e.g. I was struck, in listening to the Arabic, of how no one was ever “killed”; they were “istashida”: martyred, including those killed in “martyrdom operations,” i.e. terrorist suicide bombings). And of victimhood and revanchism. The documentary did, however—perhaps unwittingly—, show the young men as actors in their fate, of possessing agency. This was salutary. The scenes of the April 2002 battle were also quite amazing, as were the interviews with the fighters during and after (where one of them, among other things, said that allegations that the Israelis had committed a massacre were untrue). And Mer-Khamis did well in showing the aftermath of the Hadera suicide bombing in 2001, which provided some context in understanding what happened in Jenin in April ’02. If one is interested in the Palestinian issue and hasn’t seen ‘Arna’s Children’, I highly recommend it.
UPDATE 2: From the New York Times, with a moving account of the funeral.
UPDATE 3: Benny Morris weighs in.