The murder of an Israeli peace activist in Jenin, and the Guardian ‘Theater of the Absurd’

On June 12th Howard Brenton suggested in a story on the Guardian’s Theatre page (‘Stand up for West Bank’s Freedom theatre‘), in the context of reporting on the murder of Juliano Mer-Khanis (the Israeli peace activist and Jenin Freedom Theatre Director, who was gunned down in April), that the IDF is engaged in a broad assault upon Palestinian arts and culture.  

Brenton’s piece included the following passage, which includes questions meant to suggest that Israel’s war against Palestinian thespians has no boundaries: truly beyond parody:

“…how about being picked up at a checkpoint because you’re an actor, or made to stand by a theatre wall in the middle of the night with your trousers down because you’re a theatre technician? Or being taken off to a detention centre and denied a lawyer or family visit ? Or being shot in the head with your baby son in your lap because you’re an artistic director?” [emphasis added]

Then there was another passage suggesting an Israeli assault on the Freedom Theatre:

“All these are part of the price being paid by the staff of the Freedom theatre in the Jenin Refugee Camp on the West Bank. On 3 April last year, its artistic director and co-founder, the Arab-Israeli actor and peace activist Juliano Mer Khamis, got into his car outside the theatre with his son Jay and a babysitter. Reports vary as to the exact details, but it appears that 100 yards from the theatre he was waved down, then shot five times in the head by a masked gunman, who fled into the maze of the camp’s alleys. Jay was uninjured, the babysitter hit in the arm. No one has yet been apprehended for Mer Khamis’s murder. From that shocking day there has been what can only be seen as a systematic harassment of the Freedom theatre by the Israeli army.”

A more delusional suggestion would be difficult to find – at least outside of the Arab media. 

A new report in the Guardian’s Culture section, by Matt Trueman, West Bank Freedom theater director on hunger strike, July 11th, doesn’t go quite as far as Brenton, but nonetheless performs an impressive rhetorical feat in suggesting culpability for the crime.

Evidence that  Mer-Khamis was murdered by Palestinian Islamists in Jenin – angered by his liberal approach to gender and religious issues – is overwhelming and even the city’s police chief Mohammed Tayyim said Mer-Khamis was “shot five times by masked Palestinian militants”, but such pesky details get curiously overlooked by the Guardian journalist.

Trueman subtly evokes the narrative that Israel may have been responsible for the assassination of Mer-Khamis by use of a few polemical tricks.

While Trueman does not parrot Brenton’s risible tale of IDF soldiers stalking Palestinian artists, he nonetheless leaves his readers textual markers indicating the plausibility of Israeli culpability.

In the context of reporting on a hunger strike by Freedom Theatre co-founder Zakaria Zubeidi, who was arrested by the IDF on June 6th (perhaps in connection with Mer-Khamis’s murder), Trueman writes the following:

“His arrest was the sixth time a member of the Freedom Theatre’s staff or board has been arrested in the space of a year.”

Later Trueman adds:

“In April last year, the company’s co-founder and artistic director Juliano Mer-Khamis was shot dead outside the theatre. Four months later, masked Israeli soldiers attacked the theatre in the middle of the night.” [Emphasis added]

The joining of these two sentences is remarkable.

Mer-Khamis is “shot dead”, then… “masked Israeli soldiers ‘attacked‘ the theatre in the middle of the night.”

That final sentence in Trueman’s passage is itself comically propagandistic, conjuring a (masked) Israeli antagonist “attacking” the theatre.

Of course, the IDF didn’t attack the theatre but rather arrested two Palestinians in August at the theatre (yes, in the middle of the night!) who were thought to be suspects in the Mer-Khamis murder case.

Trueman doesn’t mention the presence of Palestinian extremists in his Jenin tale, or the fact that the Guardian itself reported at the time of the killing that Mer Khamis “had received threats for his work in Jenin from Palestinians…and…fire bombs were thrown at the theatre”, and that “[his] bringing together of young men and women angered conservative Muslim elements in Jenin.”

So without such vital information, the reader is left with the impression that Israel murdered a peace activist in cold blood, proving once again that no accusation or theory regarding possible Israeli villainy is too wild or implausible to be published at the Guardian. 

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