“Miral” Actor Gunned Down: Palestinian-Israeli Peace Activist Silenced by Violence


Published: April 20, 2011

“Miral,” a film by Julian Schnabel and Rula Jebreal, has sparked controversy ever since its worldwide debut at the Venice Film Festival. “Miral” has been demonstrated against at the United Nations and has even been advertised as “The movie they tried to stop.” In a world where films glorify war, crime and the objectification of women, what could “Miral” possibly include that we have not already seen? The answer is the truth. “Miral” offers a truth that diverges from the one-sided script surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that our media and government have been propagating for years. The film offers its viewers a window into the lives of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, and by doing so disrupts our quaint view of Palestinians as “terrorists” and their displacement as justified.

Freida Pinto’s co-star in “Miral” has paid the ultimate price for his role. (Courtesy of Pathe/The Weinstein Company)

What makes “Miral” an especially “threatening” film to its demonstrators is the fact that it is an artistic creation, born from an artist’s (Rula Jebreal) book and crafted into a film by artists such as director Schnabel and actor Juliano Mer-Khamis. In our modern-day world of homogenous political views, insistence on patriotism and the scrutiny that accompanies “national security,” people have become afraid to speak. In such a regulated atmosphere, it becomes the role of artists to speak the truth for those who cannot. An artist’s ability to raise awareness through his or her artwork is one of our society’s last remaining platforms of free expression, and it is a powerful tool when used bravely. However, though an artist may be free from government and elitist control, the threat of retaliation is constant for artists who choose to speak out against injustice.

Unfortunately, the silencing of artists has become less of a threat and more of a norm in our modern-day society, as seen with the demonstrators who tried to ban “Miral” from playing at the United Nations and in American theaters. In the case of “Miral” actor Mer-Khamis, this silencing proved deadly. On April 4, 2011, just 10 days after “Miral’s” March 25 U.S. release, Mer-Khamis was shot dead and his pregnant wife wounded in a Palestinian refugee camp.

A masked gunman shot Mer-Khamis, a Jewish-Palestinian peace activist, five times point blank in a Palestinian refugee camp on the West Bank in Jenin, Palestine. His pregnant wife managed to survive. This is the fear artists and activists speak about when they begin to paint pictures of obscured facts, write poems about secret genocides or make movies about ethnic cleansing in disguise. This is the risk that comes along with speaking out against injustice and the fear that keeps the majority of our world idle, ignorant and silent.

Mer-Khamis’s death is inseparable from the message he strove to convey through his art and activism, which was above all a message of peace. His message and his death form a precise equation: if you fight injustice and speak freely, you risk being jailed, killed and ultimately silenced. It seems as if in today’s world, speaking out against injustice and bloodshed is to call injustice and bloodshed upon oneself. For every peace and human rights activist, artist and vocal person who chooses to speak against injustice rather than stay silent, it appears our options are becoming increasingly narrow. Either we voluntarily allow ourselves to be silenced by fear, or we speak and expect to be involuntarily silenced.

As a society, we cannot allow Mer-Khamis’ death to legitimize our fear of speaking out against injustice. Instead, we must challenge his death and the fear that has kept many of us silent for so long. Mer-Khamis’ murder should not scare artists into silence, but rather it should encourage them to speak louder. We must understand that there is no difference between silencing a film that portrays the real lives of real human beings and silencing the people it speaks for. Behind Mer-Khamis’ silencing lies the decades-long silencing of his people, yet emerging from “Miral” is a glimmer of hope and an abundance of courage. Artists must continue in Mer-Khamis’ footsteps and challenge this silencing of human beings and truth.