Well-known actor, filmmaker and peace activist Juliano Mer-Khamis was shot dead
in his car Monday in Jenin, the volatile West Bank city in which he made his
home and founded the controversial Freedom Theater.
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A masked assailant
shot Mer-Khamis five times from close range at the entrance to the theater, a
Palestinian Authority security source said, adding that a woman who was in the
car was lightly wounded.
PA security forces made several arrests after
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the
Mer-Khamis is survived by his wife, who is pregnant with twins, a
daughter and a son, who was reportedly also with him at the time of the
Mer-Khamis, 52, was rushed from the theater in the Jenin
refugee camp to the city’s hospital, but doctors were unable to save his
His body was later transferred through a checkpoint to Israeli
authorities and taken to the Institute of Forensic Medicine at Abu
Mer-Khamis was the son of Arna Mer, a Jewish Israeli activist for
Palestinian causes, and Saliba Khamis, a Nazareth-born Christian and one of the
leaders of the Israeli Communist Party in the 1950s. The filmmaker’s maternal
grandfather was Gideon Mer, a Lithuanian-born scientist who pioneered the study
of malaria in Mandate- era Palestine.
An uncompromising critic of Israel
in later life, Mer-Khamis’s mixed parentage meant he spent much of his life
straddling both sides of the Green Line.
He was born and raised in
Nazareth, the hub of Arab life in Galilee, but served as a combat soldier in the
elite IDF Paratroopers Brigade and as an adult split his time between Haifa and
His cousins are the director and screenwriter Lihi Hanoch (the
former wife of iconic pop star Shalom Hanoch) and the musician Ran
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad condemned the
“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
Kadoura Musa, the PA governor of Jenin, said a team had
been set up to investigate the murder.
“The person who did this will be
caught regardless of his identity,” Musa said. Mer- Khamis, he said, “was a
resident of the Jenin refugee camp and helped build Palestine. He did not
deserve to die this way.”
The Jenin refugee camp was the scene of one the
fiercest battles of 2002’s Operation Defensive Shield after the IDF determined
it to be the home of a “large and varied terrorist infrastructure” and the
launch pad for a number of deadly suicide attacks.
Mer-Khamis opened the
Freedom Theater there in 2006. The venue was firebombed three years later, after
leaflets were distributed in the refugee camp describing Mer- Khamis as a “fifth
column” and calling for his death.
In a 2009 Reuters interview,
Mer-Khamis attributed the opposition to a “ghetto mentality"” and “dictatorship
of tradition” built up under Israeli occupation.
One of the theater’s
cofounders was Zakariya Zubeidi, Jenin chief of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades
described in a 2006 Sunday Times profile as “chief strategist of suicide bombers
in the camp Israelis refer to as ‘the capital of suicide terrorism.’” In 2007
Zubeidi renounced terrorism and said he had committed himself to “cultural
resistance” through theater.
On Monday, a Jenin resident who lives near
the theater told Britain’s Guardian newspaper: “I don’t think he was killed
because he was Jewish. Some people were angry with the liberal values he
was promoting at the theater, but to me he was a very nice guy who worked hard
for the people here.”
Mer-Khamis was an outspoken, often strident
proponent of Palestinian rights and a fierce critic of Israel. “Armed
struggle is legitimate as long as it’s against an occupier and is done on
occupied land,” he said in a 2009 press conference at his theater.
if there isn’t history, culture and art behind one’s rifle, that rifle kills
rather than liberates.”
“I’m in favor of a single Palestinian state from
the river to the sea,” he said at the same press conference. “If the Jews want
to live with us, ahlan wasahlan (welcome).”
He consistently rejected the
label of “Israeli-Arab,” telling Israel Radio the same year: “I’m 100-percent
Palestinian, and 100-percent Jewish.”
Mer-Khamis’s first film was The
Little Drummer Girl, a 1984 US adaptation of a John Le Carre thriller on the
Israeli- Palestinian conflict. He later appeared in a number of films by leading
Israeli filmmakers Avi Nesher and Amos Gitai, and in Wedding in Galilee by the
Nazareth-born director Michel Khleifi.
In 2002, he was nominated best
actor at the Ophir Awards, Israel’s “Oscars,” for his performance in Gitai’s
A year later, Mer-Khamis produced and co-directed his first
documentary film, Arna’s Children, on his mother’s work to establish a
children’s theater group in Jenin in the 1980s.
Israelis from the film
and theater world also expressed their shock at the killing.
“He was a
special person, brave but crazy to do what he did,” fellow actor Alon Abutbul
“I was stunned, I stopped breathing, he was a person I
liked so much,” added Nesher. “This is such an absurd murder because he
went there to give.”