Guardian buries the lead, and blames victim, in story on the murder of Juliano Mer-Khamis

Conal Urquhart’s story in today’s Guardian on the murder of Israeli actor Juliano Mer-Khamis by five masked terrorists in Jenin on April 4th legitimized the intolerance which inspired his killing, and even seemed to suggest that Mer-Khamis was to blame for his own death.

The story (Juliano Mer-Khamis – a killing inspired by drama, not politics: Jenin residents claim public opinion turned on director for performing plays that went against Islamic conservative values) is largely based on a “fatwa-style leaflet circulated in Jenin this week and seen by the Guardian” but Urquhart’s intent to cast blame on Mer-Khamis is revealed in the opening few passages:

“He wanted to create an “art revolution” to help liberate the Palestinian people, but he only managed to alienate those he most wanted to inspire”

“It has emerged that the residents of the camp had serious grievances against the actor-director that may have provided the excuses for an unknown gunman to kill him.”

“…many camp residents found his activities offensive.”

So, here we see the tone and tenor of Urquhart’s analysis – that the actor, director and peace activist (born of a Jewish mother and Palestinian Christian father) was a divisive figure who offended the sensibilities of those he devoted much of his life trying to help.

Urquhart then contextualizes the story further:

“His death and attitudes to the theatre highlight the conflict of interest between western donors, local elites and the populations they aim to aid; between liberal western values of freedom of expression and a more conservative, traditional world view.”

The words employed by Urquhart are important to note, as they suggest a moral equivalence between “Western values” which promote freedom of expression, and those who don’t – with Urquhart characterizing the latter culture, an Islamism which opposes freedom of expression, not as reactionary, unenlightened, or intolerant but, instead, employing terms which denote respect, such as “traditional”.   

Urquhart then reinforces his narrative of a Westerner who displayed a callous disregard for the traditional mores of the community he worked in, by noting:

“…the final impetus for the murder was his plan to stage a controversial German play that explores teenage sexuality.”

And here, again, Mer-Khamis is characterized as flaunting traditional values.

“But while Mer-Khamis entertained thousands and inspired devotion among his disciples, his methods disturbed conservative groups in the refugee camp.”

Urquhart then quotes a member of the “Popular Committee” – often a euphemistic name for groups who engage in armed “resistance”:

“Adnan al-Hindi, the chairman of the refugee camp’s “popular committee” said that Mer-Khamis had very different values and ideas from the residents…”

Of course, Urquhart doesn’t deem it worthy to note that some of the “different values” al-Hindi was referring to was Mer-Khamis’s passionate advocacy for non-violence and Israeli-Palestinian co-existence.

Then, quoting al-Hindi further:

“[Mer-Khamis] said that his message was to liberate citizens from the authority of their leaders and children from their parents. Then there was mixing of sexes and dancing. We tried to discuss it with him and persuade him that he was mistaken but to no avail. Public opinion turned against him.”

Mer-Khamis is now no longer merely a moral renegade – someone who had the gall to support mixing of sexes and even dances, and the temerity to suggest that Palestinian leaders were not serving them well – but is a rabble-rouser who even tried to disrupt Palestinian family unity.

Urquhart’s final proof of Mer-Khamis’s sin, comes from a local butcher, who’s quoted as saying:

“We are Muslims. We have traditions. We looked for our children and found them at the theatre dancing. If he came here to bring jobs that would be good but instead he comes here to corrupt our girls and make women of our boys,”

The picture is now clear. Mer-Khamis: an imperious and arrogant cultural imperialist who was disrespectful of Palestinian traditional culture, and corrupter of the morals of youth.  Yes, clearly he had it coming.

Yet, in a quintessential example of a journalist burying the lead, Urquhart acknowledges that the “fatwa-style” letter also complained of other traits the Israeli possessed. 

“The leaflet attacks Mer-Khamis for his belief in co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians, ‘as if we could live with those who stole our land and killed our children’.”

And, finally:

“The leaflet describes Mer-Khamis as a Jew, a communist and an infidel.”

So, the real reason Mer-Khamis was killed is belatedly – and furtively – revealed.

As should be blatantly obvious to all but the most hardened anti-Zionist ideologues, the murder of Mer-Khamis was an act of vicious hatred by members of a reactionary, violent movement – Palestinian terrorists who gunned down Juliano Mer-Khamis in cold blood because he was a  proponent of co-existence, a progressive, and not only an infidel but the worst infidel of all: a Jew.

It’s a simple and intuitive story about vile antisemitism in the Middle East – a stubborn, disturbing reality ignored continually in the pages of the Guardian. 

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