Israeli actor and political activist Juliano Mer-Khamis, who ran a theater project in the West Bank’s Jenin refugee camp, was shot dead by unknown masked men on April 4 outside the theater he founded there. Khamis, 52, had received threats for his work in Jenin, but continued to divide his time between the camp and his home in Haifa. Khamis appeared in a number of Israeli films after his first film role in the 1984 production of the John Le Carre novel The Little Drummer Girl, about Mossad’s hunt for a PLO bomber. Born to a Jewish mother and an Arab Christian father, he established the Freedom Theater group in Jenin during the first Intifada to promote co-existence.
While his work was widely appreciated by Palestinians, the project’s bringing together of young men and women angered conservative Muslim elements in Jenin. In addition to threats, fire bombs were thrown at the theater. However the project was supported by local militants. Zakaria Zubeidi, a leader of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, frequented the theater 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.” (Ha’aretz, April 8; The Guardian, Ha’aretz, April 4)
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad also issued a statement condemning the killing. “We cannot stand silent in the face of this ugly crime, it constitutes a grave violation that goes beyond all principles and human values and it contravenes with the customs and ethics of co-existence,” he said. (Jerusalem Post, April 4)
One man was subsequently arrested by the Palestinian Authority in connection with the murder. Hamas issued a statement April 6 saying that the detained man is a member of Fatah and has nothing to do with the Islamist movement. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri identified the suspect as Mujahed Qaniri. He said that Qaniri is known to residents of Jenin as a member of Fatah and its armed wing, the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. A PA security source confirmed that Qaniri was once a member of Fatah, but claimed that he later defected to Hamas. (Jerusalem Post, April 6)