12 April 2011

For Juliano, life was art and art was resistance

Again, tragedy strikes. Again, I am struggling with words. And again, words are failing me when I most need them. Because what words can be used to describe feelings beyond pain, agony and desperation? Words seem too shallow for the emotions lodged somewhere inside of me, refusing to budge. But then, I chose words as my medium, so for me – what else is there other than words?

I received the news of Juliano’s murder from my father – his voice had urgency in it. He spoke in rapid words, “hada takhu la Juliano” (they shot Juliano) First, disbelief. Then, deeper disbelief. I put the phone down, my brain in chaos. No. My father must be mistaken. It just can’t be. But then reality hit me in the face – of course it can be! After all, we live in an armed conflict zone. Where life and death are interconnected and tragedy can strike at any moment. Though I know this, every time it succeeds in astonishing me and in disturbing my mental and emotional balance.

A chaotic evening followed – phone calls, chat, emails… And when I couldn’t stay with it any longer, I went to a café and had two badly needed glasses of wine. A close friend contained me with all my sadness and weakness, not letting me fall apart and shatter on the ground into fragments. And when I came back home, I collapsed into my bed, thoughts of Juliano again taking up all the space in my brain.

Juliano Mer Khamis, son of a Palestinian father and a Jewish mother. In a land torn between two peoples, he at once belonged to both and to neither. In a land where national and religious identity is central to most, he transcended to a place beyond – for him, life was art and art was resistance. For him, there were no distinctions between these three separate concepts.

A one-of-a-kind artist and political activist, Juliano was wholly dedicated to fostering a new, young generation of Palestinians with a vision of reaching freedom through artistic, non-violent means. Juliano wanted to reconstruct and rebuild that which has been destroyed. He wanted to give the children of the Jenin refugee camp hope – and for that he was murdered. He wanted to give them creative tools so that they can stand up with their head high and struggle for their freedom and their rights with art – and for that he was murdered.

The murder hit close home because we have something in common yet different – the use of art as a means of political action and resistance. But whereas I walk carefully between the drops of rain, making every effort to avoid getting wet, Juliano stepped into the puddles. He was true to himself as an artist, true to himself as a human being, and true to his values. His art was above and beyond his fear for his personal security. His was fearless commitment with no real regard to consequences, whereas mine is muddled with rational thoughts of “what ifs.”

And this takes me back to a thought that takes up much space in my personal writing: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” (Desmund Tutu)

There are many things I fear writing about publicly. I fear for my own personal safety and for the safety of my daughter. And thus much of it remains in my private collection, not seeing the light and not reaching readers. This is what bothers me most – how true am I to my values of justice? To what extent am I willing to step into puddles and not avoid the rain drops? To what extent am I willing to merge my writing – my art – with my resistance? Where are the boundaries and to what extent do I stretch them in the name of…?

What I do know for a fact now that Juliano’s murder opened up this space for me – a deeper crack to examine my writing and the issues I avoid writing about for fear of… because for me, there’s no point in writing if it doesn’t serve a higher purpose and the values I believe in. If it doesn’t strive to make structural social change…