Arab-Israeli actor gunned down in West Bank town

A well-known Arab-Israeli actor, director and political activist was gunned down yesterday in the West Bank town where he ran a drama school and community theatre, Palestinian police said.

Juliano Mer Khamis was shot five times by one or more militants, according to Jenin police chief Mohammed Tayyim. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. The shooting took place about 50 yards away from the theatre.

Mer Khamis, 52, was the son of a Jewish mother and an Arab father – a rarity in a land where the two populations almost never intermarry. His split identity fuelled a long career as an actor and a vocal activist against Israel's policies toward the Palestinians. He starred in several critically acclaimed Israeli films, and also appeared in the 1984 American film The Little Drummer Girl.

In 2006, he opened an amateur theatre company in Jenin, a city which had been torn by violence during the second Palestinian uprising after 2000.

He saw the company, known as the Freedom Theater, as a way of restoring normality to the town's youth and opening their minds to the world beyond the harshness of their immediate surroundings. His mother, an Israeli Jew, had run a youth theatre in Jenin years before.

The theatre drew criticism and vandalism from some Palestinians who were suspicious of Mer Khamis, an Israeli citizen, and saw the theatre as a threat to their traditions.

"We lack a culture of criticism. We lack a culture of free-thinking," Mer Khamis said in 2009, when his company put on a production of Animal Farm. "One of our roles is to challenge this," he said.

Mer Khamis said he had planned to stage The Lieutenant of Inishmore, a satire of armed resistance, but shelved the idea after someone smashed the window of his car.

After the shooting, a Palestinian ambulance took his body to a nearby checkpoint to be transferred into Israel.

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