This is written as a response to Dimi Reider’s essay, “Thirty days: A farewell to Juliano Mer-Khamis.” It is not meant as a personal attack, but to draw attention to a systemic issue that is larger than any of us individually.
I could not wait for people to stop writing about Juliano Mer-Khamis. I, a poet, was tired of the touching poetics. I was tired of mistaken identities, sometimes accidental and other times slanderous. I was offended by the hero worship of a very flawed human being, and the very tenuous silence around Juliano’s rage and violent behavior. I wanted some space to myself, to process all of these feelings and to mourn on my own terms. In fact, I needed this space, and I still do. I worked hard to ignore every word unsaid, every time he was referred to as an Arab-Israeli or some other construction he never identified with in his living days.
I do not want to add to the hurricane of words that followed his assassination. I am writing this, not out of a desire to tell a story about Juliano, but instead to talk about the stories that are being told (and left untold) by the way that we are talking about Juliano after his death. There is a problem with gender violence in this movement. It did not start or end with Juliano Mer-Khamis. There are stories older than him and stories that are fresh — wounds that have yet to close and wounds that will never close. I did not know this side of Juliano, but I carry my own story, and my own wounds.
It is true that we cannot take Juliano’s violence or anyone’s individual acts of violence out of their political context. A person born into occupation and colonialism reflects his society and is situated within it, even as he challenges its borders. However, every act of sexual violence is also a political act, and when we allow it to continue in our movement, we are working against ourselves. It is not a product of being born a border-crossing person. This way of thinking, as expressed in Reider’s essay, conflates a multiracial identity with a lack of respect for physical boundaries. It individualizes and racializes a systematic problem. It is the responsibility of perpetrators (even, and especially, those who are prominent and respected members of our movement) to be accountable and the responsibility of us all to create safer spaces — honestly, to create a safer movement.
To say that the Freedom Theatre is a liberating endeavor, that it is doing a lot for women and girls in Jenin, does not erase the experiences of people within our movement who have been abused, by Juliano or anyone else. These stories are not contradictory. They coexist, building a full reality, as three-dimensional as a person is before he dies and becomes a flat shahid poster. If we cannot respect something so fundamental — the autonomy of another person over her own body — what are we fighting for?
There is a way to mourn Juliano, the whole person, without making excuses for his behavior or avoiding the responsibility to stop assault when we see it. I have been walking a long road trying to find this way of mourning, since the day I heard about his death. I have shed a lot of words, and a lot of tears, and I still don’t know. I think it begins with where we go from here: the obligation to talk, and listen. To heal, and to take action. Gender violence is a problem in our movement, right now. We have the obligation to end it, right now. There is a beautiful future for us to build, and it is for all of us.