Yesterday I saw a solid if unremarkable film called Miral, that despite its flaws tells an interesting story of a children’s school that was nobly founded in 1948 amidst the height of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Directed by Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), the film genuinely captures the texture or a region in peril, and sends a clear message of peace and perspective in the face of hatred. This makes today’s news that one of the film’s supporting actors was killed Monday, by the very people the film humanizes, even sadder.
Juliano Mer-Khamis played a brief but important role as Shiek Sabbah in Miral who, if I recall correctly, ends up helping the growing school with support during the hardest times of Palestine. He’s part of a bigger picture painted by the film, which shows the Palestinian side of a conflict that is often about drawing lines of black and white, with our more obvious allies typically on the favorable side. Balance is not one of the film’s flaws, as it doesn’t hesitate to show the humanity and ugliness of both sides, while subtly suggesting that coexistence rather than sheer compromise might be the ultimate solution. Mer-Khamis embodied that in his own life and work as well. The son of a Jew and an Arab Christian, he appeared in films from notable Israeli directors while at the same time building a theater with a militant Palestinian. He taught children and focused on art with important messages of peace. It was near his theater that he was gunned down Monday, apparently in view of his twin-expecting wife.
Palestinian officials have condemned the event, and have apparently detained a member of Hamas involved.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad spoke out in the killing, and also said an investigative unit would be established to find the murderer.
“We cannot stand silent in the face of this ugly crime,” he said. “It constitutes a grave violation that goes beyond all principles and human values, and it contravenes the customs and ethics of coexistence.”
It’s a shame the film will gather more attention for something so horrible, but this is the kind of tragedy that demonstrates how important films with ambitious themes can be. The real-life parallels are heart-breaking, but one can only hope this event will, in the long run, be another step towards understanding between people that really just want to live and make future’s for themselves.
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