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Apr-05-2011 22:32printcomments

Losing Juliano

The best answer to violence is to intensify our work and build on the vision thus never allowing these forces of hate to destroy the future.

Juliano Mer-Khamis
The late Juliano Mer-Khamis

(SAN FRANCISCO) - Humanity mourns. We are shocked. Juliano Mer-Khamis, a friend and fellow peace activist, was murdered in Jenin. The masked killer(s), whoever they were, were cowards whose madness will not deter those of us who continue to work for justice and peace for all. If they thought they could kill coexistence and love in the holy land by killing a symbol and a great activist, they are mistaken.

Juliano symbolizes what many of us have worked for: a transformation of our homeland into a pluralistic democratic state where every human being regardless of his religion
(Jewish, Christian, Muslim) would be treated with dignity and respect. Fundamentalist notions of superiority were at odds with this message. His killers will not get their way and justice will prevail.

But Juliano’s loss is a shock to all of us.

Juliano was a superb human being who embodied the best qualities of activism and dedicated leadership for human rights, justice and peace. He was my age and I first met him a few years ago when we brought him for the Connecticut screening of the film Arna’s Children, the story of his mother and the Children of Jenin Refugee camp (see for scenes from the film and Juliano’s words).

On numerous occasions over the past few years I visited Jenin Freedom Theater that Juliano co-founded and that injected so much beauty and hope into the lives of the people at Jenin Refugee Camp.

Juliano took the characters of compassion and caring of his Israeli Jewish mother (she herself worked to challenge Zionist supremacy and fundamentalist idiocies for decades) and gentile love of land and people and pacifist characters of his Palestinian father. He exemplified everything that I and millions of others aspired to: coexistence, tolerance, nonviolence, peace, love, passion for life, richness in diversity and so much more.

The Freedom Theatre is in Jenin refugee camp.

He had a two year old child and his wife as I knew was pregnant or may have just delivered their second child. His absence will be felt but I for one will work to ensure that his work continues and accelerates. The best answer to violence is to intensify our work and build on the vision thus never allowing these forces of hate to destroy the future.

As to who killed Juliano: all humans are guilty... our inability to rise as a species beyond violence is largely due to our apathy and indifference to the suffering of fellow human beings. It is telling that many political leaders (from Hamas, Fatah, Israeli leaders) remain silent on the murder of Juliano when they so readily spoke at other convenient political junctures.

Those who are apathetic are just as guilty as those fundamentalist racists who ordered this killing or pulled the trigger to shoot fellow human beings. I for one will have a lot of pain in my heart for Juliano, for Bassem, for Jawaher, for Rachel and all the other friends we lost along the way.

We must make sure that their murders do not go in vain and the best thing we can do is increase our efforts to continue the path and bring others to this path. Killers must know that 10 will rise in place for every peace activist they kill. Those of us active in the same cause of coexistence and peace must intensify our work.

Ironically, I had yesterday given a sermon at a Unitarian Universalist congregation addressing the issues of violence and nonviolence. It is copied below and is appropriate for this occasion. But first, I urge all to join the biggest chance to get attention for the Palestinian cause in the U.S. the weekend of April 9 when tens of thousands will march against the wars, occupations and the apartheid in Palestine and elsewhere.

April 9 at noon will see a huge rally and march in New York City. A major speaker is Omar Barghouti one of the founders of the boycotts, divestment and sanctions campaign. In the march there will be a "United Palestine Solidarity Contingent" full of banners and flags.

Omar Barghouti

On the next day in San Francisco there will be a similar demonstration. For more information see: or

Over 500 endorsers include Ali Abunimah, Mazin Qumsiyeh, Ann Wright, Ilan Pappe, US Palestinian Community Network, Al-Awda NY, Code Pink, Palestine Right of Return Coalition, Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights, SJP’s from many campuses, Middle East Crisis Committee, Middle East Children’s Alliance, and many others.

Sermon at a United Universalist Congregation-Sacramento

About a year ago, I came back from a trip to Azerbeijan and was questioned as usually happens in crossing the bridge from Jordan to the West Bank (the only entry/exit point for us Palestinians). The obligatory good cop/bad cop pair of Israeli officials questioned me for a very long time.

At one point I suggested they just google my name since everything about me is on the web somewhere. But they kept questioning me.

At one point the main interrogator asked: “You are a Christian?” I answered, “Yes, and a Buddhist, a Jew, a Muslim, and an agnostic among others.”

He said angrily, "You are making fun of me." I said, "No. I believe there is truth in all these traditions."

He pointed at my ID card in front of him and said, "But it says here you are a Christian."

I simply said, “But it is you all who put that there, not me.”

My family is indeed a mixed family like most humanity: my father was Greek Orthodox, my mother Lutheran, my sister converted to Mormon Traditions, my wife is Chinese American who comes from a Buddhist background, my son was born in West Texas (I guess some would call that being a red-neck) who is exploring his world, some of my relatives married Jews, my friends are Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and atheist of all gender identifications.

I cannot give you a sense of the suffering that is inflicted on 11 million Palestinians; 7 million of us are refugees or displaced people. For that I suggest you do what Doug Kraft and others have done before: come see it for yourself.

Spend a night or two at one of the refugee camps. Spend a day or two at one of the villages like Al-Walaja in the seam zone between the wall and the Green line. Spend an hour or two at the next demolition of Al-Araqeeb, a village in the Negev that was demolished 18 times already. If you are adventurous you may join us in nonviolent actions taking place every day.

The smell of spiked tear Gas and even the feel of tight handcuffs or a shove by a burly security officer will be a totally unforgettable experience. You can join us in morning those murdered by the mindless violence of those with hate in their hearts.

But maybe I will simply stand here before you as this one fallible human being and tell you about me and how I feel and what influenced me. I was born literally down the hill of the Church of Nativity where tradition holds that Jesus was born.

Our village name “Beit Sahour” is Aramaic for the house of those who stay up by night – in reference for the Shepherd’s who watched over their flocks and saw that star.

Beit Sahour, looking East (Photo:

As descendant of those Aramaic speaking shepherds, we Nebatean Canaanites took our mission of telling it to the world seriously. While we adopted different and newer religions and rulers came and went, we remained the people of that ancient land and we were and remain pioneers.

We were the first to develop agriculture (hence the designations of fertile crescent and land of milk and honey). We were the first to domesticate plants and animals. We were the first to develop an alphabet – proto Aramaic alphabet evolved to the Arabic and Hebrew alphabet right in this great land of Canaan. We were the first to develop law, astronomy, math, and shipping.

The origin of the Aramaic word Canaan is debated and we see things like qna’ translated as satisfied or lying obedient or referring to the color purple (hence the greek Phoenicia for that part of the world meaning also purple).

In our land various religious beliefs evolved and many people took them up and used them for good or for evil. Our religions have statements that clearly support the distinction between challenging and correcting evil and harming the evil-doers.

In Christian traditions loving our enemies does not mean accepting the evil perpetuated (Jesus turned the tables in the Temples). In Muslim traditions, yakrahu al-munkar (hate the evil) wala yakrahu almunkireen (not thating eth evil-doers). This is the essence of nonviolent transformation.

The problems for us are not the different religious beliefs or our own tendency to spirituality. But it is religious dogma especially when married to state power and uses violence to advance its agenda. Christianity became state religion that led to the horrors of the crusaders. That is what my friend and Jewish Theologian Marc Ellis calls “Constantinian Christianity”. Ellis argues that Zionism today is essentially "Constantinian Judaism".

I was reminded of this when I read a letter by Thomas Jefferson to Mordecai Noah, May 28, 1818:

"I thank you for the Discourse on the consecration of the Synagogue in your city, with which you have been pleased to favor me. I have read it with pleasure and instruction, having learnt from it some valuable facts in Jewish history which I did not know before.

Your sect by its sufferings has furnished a remarkable proof of the universal spirit of religious intolerance inherent in every sect, disclaimed by all while feeble, and practiced by all when in power.

Our laws have applied the only antidote to this vice, protecting our religious, as they do our civil rights, by putting all on an equal footing. But more remains to be done, for although we are free by the law, we are not so in practice."

He goes on to explain how religions would do well to keep the private myths and discourses in the confines of their buildings while lending the more common and respectful ideas to the public sphere (e.g. the golden rule). We are reminded of these insightful and prophetic words of Jefferson about how sects when feeble demand equality and when in power exercise discrimination and violence.

The unfolding popular nonviolent resistance in the Arab world reminds us of the power of such movements. We Palestinians have engaged in such nonviolent struggle for over 130 years which I summarize in my recent book.

People can be very innovative in these nonviolent struggles. Palestinian women thus were the first to use cars in mass demonstrations: 120 cars were gathered and moved beeping their horns in a parade down the old city streets of Jerusalem in October 1929, a spectacle at that time.

When flying the Palestinian flag was punishable by 9 months in jail, Palestinians hung laundry in the colors of the flag. In 1988, Palestinians in my village founded the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People which brought internationals and even Israelis to nonviolently break the siege and curfew laid on our town during the tax revolt.

There were so many inspiring and innovative acts of nonviolent resistance that were successful in so many ways.

The key to understanding the power of these movements is to just look at the history of how we got women’s right to vote, civil rights, the 40-hour work week, ending the war on Vietnam, ending support for apartheid South Africa, and many others.

It is when people shed their fears, fears usually stoked by those elites in authority, that they realize that nothing can stop as individuals working together nonviolently.

In the 1960s civil rights movement, the saying was "free your mind and your ass will follow". Once we free our minds, nothing can stop us. That is what Egyptians, Tunisian, and others have realized. That is what we Palestinians of various religions realized. That is what humanity is realizing.

Howard Zinn said, you can’t be neutral on a moving train. The choice before us as individuals and as societies has always been between fear and courage, between hate and love, violence and popular resistance to violence.

Join us in Palestine July 8-16, 2011 for a week of activism and peace building. Thank you.


Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD - Popular Committee to Defend Ush Ghrab (PCDUG) "A Bedouin in Cyberspace, a villager at home. Mazin has been an Associate Professor of Genetics; Director, Cytogenetics Laboratory at Yale University School of Medicine since 1999. He previously held a similar position at Duke University. Professor Qumsiyeh has authored over 110 scientific papers in areas of mammalogy, biology, and medicine including mammalian biology and evolution, clinical genetics, and cancer research. He has published over 100 letters to the editor and 30 op-ed pieces in International, national, regional and local papers on issues ranging from politics to environmental issues. His appearances in national media included the Washington Post, New York Times, Boston Globe, CNBC, C-Span, and ABC, among others. He is the founder and president of the Holy Land Conservation Foundation and ex-President of the Middle East Genetics Association, and Prof. Qumsiyeh won the Jallow activism award from the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee in 1998. He is author of “Sharing the Land of Canaan: Human rights and the Israeli/Palestinian Struggle” and just published “Popular Resistance in Palestine: A history of Hope and Empowerment.” Visit Mazin Qumsiyeh's amazing and informative Website to learn more:

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eileen fleming April 19, 2011 6:33 pm (Pacific time)

Excellent commentary and what we also need is the regain COMMON SENSE! "Soon after I had published the pamphlet "Common Sense" [on Feb. 14, 1776] in America, I saw the exceeding probability that a revolution in the system of government would be followed by a revolution in the system of religion... The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion."-Thomas Paine

Anna O'Leary April 6, 2011 12:38 am (Pacific time)

Having met Juliano, and discovering what a wonderful human being he was, I see those Jews in Israel again as the most base form of humanity. I cry for the Palestinians who have a terrible life from the bullies with billdozers. I feel loss and anger and will work to save Palestine. FREE PALESTINE. I feel privileged that once I sat for lunch in the company of Juliano. I pray for him and the dear family left to mourn him.

Editor: Thank you for sharing that Anna.  Hearts are very heavy over this one.

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