News / Middle East

Dead Arab Israeli Actor Mourned

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Luis Ramirez

Juliano Mer Khamis was an Arab Israeli actor who worked through the arts to end Israel's occupation of the West Bank. This week, he was gunned down outside the theater he founded at the Jenin Palestinian refugee camp.

Crowds came to bid farewell to one who embodied coexistence between two worlds. The casket of actor Mer Khamis was brought to a checkpoint in the West Bank so Palestinians he worked with could pay last respects.

Among the mourners, conflicted views.

"When I knew that a Jew was killed, I was happy, and other people were happy. I am not going to hide it," said Jenin refugee camp resident Ahmad Nazzal.

Mer Khamis was half Jewish, half Palestinian. He was at home among Arabs and Jews, but often both saw him as an outsider.

He tried to bridge differences through theater, training young Palestinian actors, before he was gunned down near the theater he founded at the Jenin refugee camp.

Here, outsiders frequently are seen with suspicion.

Many observe strict Islamic codes and some resent the theater for letting boys and girls interact on stage.

"This theater is against Islamic Sharia law," said Ahmad Abu Hattab, a Jenin Camp resident. "For example, a boy seven years of age can mix with females, but not once they mature."

Zakaria Zubeidi is a former militant who gave up bomb-making for theater. As a close associate of Mer Khamis, he shared the actor's dream of using art to fight Israel's occupation.  

Zubeidi said Mer Khamis was a man of peace and this was not supposed to happen. "With the killings of all the ones I loved, including Juliano, I started having a feeling that every time I work with someone to build Palestinian society, I lose him. I wonder why."

For some, Mer Khamis has made a difference even in death. The man who said he initially cheered the actor's death has changed his mind.

"Now, I have the idea that he was a good man who is considered a martyr," said Nazzal. "On the contrary, we should encourage his ideas of tolerance and coexistence in order to live in peace."

Actors meet to talk about the future, and the Freedom Theater continues its work.  

Its founder is dead, but not his dream.

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