Batsheva Sobelman
The Los Angeles Times (Blog)
January 28, 2010 - 1:00am

"Avatar" may be rocking the box office, but it's rocking the casbah too, getting people to ask who's who with the blues and who exactly are the meanies in Israel.

This week, a screening of "Avatar" erupted into a small ruckus in a suburb when one moviegoer loudly announced that the Palestinians should learn from this movie what to do to the Jews, causing a commotion and angering others in the audience.

The opinionated moviegoer was Juliano Mer-Khamis. Born in Nazereth to a Jewish mother and Arab father, he is an accomplished actor of many years, a filmmaker as well as a political activist who is very outspoken against the occupation.

Mer-Khamis confirmed the incident and added in the newspaper Maariv: "No one dares to make the real analogy. 'Avatar' is one of the bravest films made. It portrays the occupation, but people aren't making the analogy. Many would like to be like the blue people but don't understand the meaning. This is why people got angry at the movie theater. It is no secret that I think the Israelis are occupiers and the Palestinians occupied. Israel sits forcefully on lands that belong to others and this is exactly what the movie is talking about."

Mer-Khamis also suggests distributing the movie in the Palestinian town of Jenin. His choice of Jenin of all Palestinian locations is probably no coincidence: It is home to the Freedom Theatre, which he established a few years ago for the children of the Palestinian refugee camp there and to use "the magic and fantasy of theater to offer some respite" to the population, according to its website.

The Jenin theater was attacked with Molotov cocktails last year. Mer-Khamis was threatened, denounced in leaflets by militant Palestinians as morally corrupt and an agent of Zionism -- probably a first for that allegation. The music center in town was also torched later. Mer-Khamis acknowledged that he was afraid but said that he wasn't the type to run away. "It drives them crazy that a person who's half-Jewish heads one of the most important projects in the northern West Bank," he had told the news media at the time. The Jenin theater was a tribute to his mother, Arna Mer-Khamis, whose earlier work in the town was documented in the film "Arna's Children."

Either way, "Avatar" already got on the wrong side of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman -- or his spoof, really, on the "Eretz Nehederet" ('It's a Wonderful Country') satire show.

Blowing off claims that his foreign policy had left Israel with no allies in the world, the "minister" introduced the country's new best friend, "an ally out of this world": the prime minister of "Avatar."

The new diplomatic alliance lasts only until the blue thing explains that the movie is about a people resisting occupation.

A leftist movie, sniffs the "minister," and he promptly shoots the blue being.

Sorry, folks, he says. There's isn't going to be an "Avatar No. 2."


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