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Israeli Actor-Activist Shot Dead by Hamas Militants in West Bank


"I am 100 percent Palestinian and 100 percent Jewish."

Juliano Mer-Khamis was born to a Jewish mother and an Arab-Christian father. An actor and director of Israeli descent, he was a pro-Palestinian peace activist. As such, he was considered by many to be straddling the often impenetrable divide between Israel and Palestine.

In 2009, he told Israel's army radio, "I am 100 percent Palestinian and 100 percent Jewish."

The AFP:

He was well-known for his political activism as well as his acting and directing, and most recently starred in "Miral" (2010), the story of two Palestinian women after the creation of Israel in 1948, which had its premiere at UN headquarters in New York.

But he was shot dead today in the Palestinian refugee camp Jenin, just yards away from the theater he founded there, the Freedom Theatre. Witnesses saw two masked men open fire on Mer-Khamis' car and then rush away from the scene.

In the car with Mer-Khamis were his one-year-old son, and the infant's nanny. The nanny was hurt in the hand. Mer-Khamis was 52.

Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad condemned the killing and said he had ordered the Palestinian security services to "work round the clock" to find the killers.

"This despicable crime will not be tolerated under any circumstances: it constitutes a severe violation of our principles and values and goes against our people's morals and beliefs in co-existence," Fayyad said in statement.

Later Mer-Khamis body was transferred to Israel.

Mer-Khamis' wife, Jenny, is pregnant with twins. Jenny, a Finn, heard the news of her husbands death over Israeli radio.

Why would Mer-Khamis be gunned down? Some say that his theater was promoting liberal values with which some Palestinians found themselves at odds.

Jerusalem Post:

Palestinian Authority security officials arrested a Hamas operative in Jenin suspected of involvement in the murder of actor, filmmaker and peace activist Juliano Mer-Khamis.

Several other suspects were arrested on Monday night following the murder, many of whom were later released. Both the IDF and the PA security forces were investigating the circumstances and motive of the murder, which remained unclear.

Zacharia Zabaidi, a close friend of Mer-Khamis and a former commander of the Al-Aksa Martyr's Brigade said that the actor fell victim to power struggles among Palestinian factions, Israel Radio reported.

In this tribute to the Freedom Theatre, Mer-Khamis speaks about why theater is an important part of the life of a community. Nearly half of the refugees of this particular camp are minors, and you'll see that children take center stage in this clip:

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But for some Palestinians, the Freedom Theatre pushed the boundaries too far. The Guardian reports:

While his work was widely appreciated by Palestinians, his bringing together of young men and women angered conservative Muslim elements in Jenin. In addition to threats, fire bombs were thrown at the theatre. However the project was supported by local militants. Zakaria Zubeidi, a leader of the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, frequented the theatre as a child.

Kadura Musa, governor of Jenin, said: "He was a Palestinian citizen of Israeli origin. An actor and an artist but most of all a true human being. We don't know why this happened, but all the people of the camp condemn the death of this son of ours whose mother also did so much for the people of Jenin."

Alaa Eddin Saadi lives next to the theatre, and said that Mer Khamis was shot while in a car also carrying his one-year old son and his nanny, who was wounded in the hand. "I don't think he was killed because he was Jewish. Some people were angry with the liberal values he was promoting at the theatre, but to me he was a very nice guy who worked hard for the people here."

The theater had a history of sparking Palestinian outrage:

Residents of the refugee camp disseminated fliers in 2009 calling the actor a fifth column. "If words don't help we will have to speak in bullets," the fliers said.

The theater, which became one of the city's main culture centers since its establishment five years ago, has sustained many firebomb attacks. In April of 2009 the theater's door was torched.

In an interview with Ynet that year, Mer-Khamis said he feared for his life. "But what choice do I have? To run? I am not a fleeing man," he said.

"I am an elite force man, formerly of the paratroopers. The only two things I gained from Israeli culture are Shlonsky's translations of Shakespeare and adequate field training. Now I need it."

However, the actor added, he was taking precautions. Of those behind the fliers he said, "It makes them crazy that a man who is half-Jewish is at the head of one of the most important projects in the Palestinian West Bank and it is just hypocritical racism."

"I have never been as Jewish as I am right now in Jenin. After all this work at the camp it would be extremely unfortunate to die of a Palestinian bullet," he added in a moment of clairvoyance.

May Juliano Mer-Khamis rest in peace.

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