|Mer Khamis ran the Freedom Theatre in Jenin, a city that had been torn by violence since the second intifada [AFP]|
A masked gunman has shot dead a well-known Arab Israeli actor, director and political activist in the West Bank town of Jenin where he ran a drama school and community theatre, Palestinian police said.
Juliano Mer-Khamis, the 52-year-old director of The Freedom Theatre in Jenin, died when a gunman inside the town’s refugee camp opened fire on his car, hitting him with five bullets, Mohammed Tayim, a senior police official, told the AFP news agency on Monday.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Witnesses in the camp told AFP they saw two masked gunmen open fire on his car before speeding away. However, Qadura Musa, governor of Jenin, told AFP initial reports indicated a lone gunman had carried out the attack.
“He was shot by a masked gunman who fired five bullets into the window of his car,” Musa said. A woman from Bethlehem who was in the car with him was wounded in the hand, he said.
Musa said he was not aware of any threats against Mer-Khamis.
“We have not arrested anyone yet, but we have formed a crisis group from all the Palestinian security forces to investigate this crime and we hope to have some results within the coming hours.”
Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, 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.
An Israeli citizen, Mer-Khamis was born to a Jewish mother, Arna Mer, and a Palestinian Christian father, Saliba Khamis, and was known for both his acting and directing as well as his political activism.
He had lived in a Jenin camp for seven years, and refused to describe himself as an Arab Israeli, telling Israel’s army radio in 2009: “I am 100 per cent Palestinian and 100 percent Jewish.”
In recent years he ran the Freedom Theatre in Jenin, attracting protests and vandalism from some Palestinians who saw the theatre as a challenge to their traditions.
The theatre was first set up by Mer-Khamis’s mother in 1987, when it was known as The Stone Theatre.
A committed peace activist, Arna Mer had wanted to create a space where the children of Jenin could escape the violence of the first intifada, or uprising, which had begun several months earlier.
Fifteen years later, the theatre was destroyed during the second intifada when Israeli troops launched a massive operation that they said was designed to root out gunmen from the refugee camp.
It was rebuilt in 2004 by her actor son with the help of Zakaria Zubeidi, who himself was part of the theatre project.
The story about his mother’s work with the children was documented by Mer-Khamis’s 2004 film “Arna’s Children” which won first prize at the Canadian International Documentary Festival the same year.
The Freedom Theatre doubles as a cultural centre inside the refugee camp, which is home to some 16,000 Palestinian refugees, more than half of them minors.
But the theatre was not without its critics. Two years ago, two molotov cocktails were hurled at the building, which was empty at the time, setting the door on fire.
Since then, there have been no reports of attacks or threats against the theatre or those running it, locals and officials said.