Israeli-Palestinian actor-director Juliano Mer-Khamis, who appears in Julian Schnabel’s “Miral,” was gunned down Monday, April 5, in the West Bank city of Jenin, near the Freedom Theater that he founded. He was 52.
Mer-Khamis was shot five times by Palestianian militants, according to the Jenin police chief.
Samia Staiti, the theater’s program director, said Mer-Khamis had received death threats from those who felt he was going against traditional Palestinian customs in his work.
Mer-Khamis was born in the Israeli-Arab city of Nazareth; his mother was Jewish, his father an Arab Christian. He portrayed Israeli Jews in many of his roles on stage and screen.
He founded the Freedom Theater with a former militant Palestinian leader, but the latter’s involvment did not subdue outrage over some of Mer-Khamis’ efforts, including the staging of “Animal Farm” and of coed activities at the theater, which had twice been set ablaze in the past.
Mer-Khamis’ first film appearance was in 1984’s John Le Carre adaptation “The Little Drummer Girl,” about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He later appeared in a number of films by leading Israeli filmmakers Avi Nesher and Amos Gitai, and in Michel Khleifi’s “Wedding in Galilee.”
In 2002, he was nominated for best actor at Israel’s Ophir Awards for his performance in Gitai’s “Kedma.”
A year later, Mer-Khamis produced and co-directed his first documentary, “Arna’s Children,” on his mother’s efforts to establish a children’s theater group in Jenin.
A rep for the Weinstein Co.’s controversial “Miral” told the New York Post that writer Rula Jabreal and director Schnabel “were very shocked at this tragic news.”
Gitai told Israel’s Haaretz that he was shocked by the murder. “There are people like Juliano, who are radical people, try with their own bodies to serve as a bridge over the gorges of hate. And in Juliano’s case it’s real, he is a larger than life,” Gitai said.
In a statement, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad declared, “We cannot stand silent in the face of this ugly crime,” Fayyad said. “It constitutes a grave violation that goes beyond all principles and human values, and it contravenes with the customs and ethics of co-existence.”
According to the Jerusalem Post, Palestinian Authority security officials arrested a Hamas operative who is suspected of involvement in the murder.
Mer-Khamis is survived by his wife, who is pregnant with twins and was reportedly nearby when he was shot.