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An actor’s life: Israeli-Palestinian theater advocate murdered

With revolution, civil war and government upheavals sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been more or less pushed out of the headlines. But tensions have quietly escalated in the last few weeks.

Last month an explosion at a bus stop killed a woman in Jerusalem — the first such incident in the city since 2004.  A week and half earlier, five members of an Israeli family were murdered in a West Bank settlement. In response, the Israeli government announced plans to build hundreds of new housing units in the West Bank. And on Thursday, a missile from Gaza struck an Israeli school bus, injuring a student and the driver. Israel immediately retaliated.

One incident in particular caught our attention. This Monday in the West Bank, a well-known but controversial political activist was murdered. His name was Juliano Mer-Khamis. He was an actor and director, born to a Jewish mother and a Christian Arab father, and a lightning rod to both communities.  He was shot and killed outside the theater he ran for local youth in the town of Jenin. Authorities believe the killer was Palestinian. Need to Know correspondent Mona Iskander met him in Jenin two years ago, and she brings us this story.

Mer-Khamis was a rare and complicated figure, a man who called himself “100 percent Palestinian and 100 percent Jewish.” In 2006, he went to a refugee camp in the Palestinian city of Jenin — once the site of one of the bloodiest battles to ever take place in the West Bank — to open the Freedom Theatre for young people. His aim was to promote freedom of expression and create new tools of resistance for Jenin’s youth.

“It’s working,” Mer-Khamis said of his theater program. “Not fast enough, not good enough, not big enough, but it’s working. It’s working because, first, we gave the resistance of Jenin a platform to continue their struggle in different ways. This for me is very important thing.”

But he was less optimistic on the prospects for peace in the region. “I have no hope for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, at least not in my lifetime,” Mer-Khamis said. “I have hope as a human being, yes. Oh, I have big hope as a human being.  I believe in humans. I believe that people are good.”

Video: Heart of Jenin
Slideshow: A curtain rises in Jenin
Peace and Prosperity in the West Bank?

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  • Anonymous

    A great story about the tragic death of a remarkable man.

    However, the lead-in about the violence was misleadingly one-sided, only mentioning violence perpetrated against Israelis, and very little context was given.

    On March 24, UNICEF issued a report that mentioned the horrific incidents you cited in your report, but also the following: “Since the beginning of the year, eight Palestinian children have died as a result of the violence, including three who were killed in the Gaza Strip two days ago. More than 60 children have been injured.”

    On March 25, UK Foreign Secretary Hague made remarks in which he specifically condemned the attacks against Israelis, but also noted: “Six Palestinian civilians, including four children, have been killed as a result of Israeli actions in the Gaza strip… We have urged the Israeli government to ensure everything is done to avoid further civilian casualties while calling for a complete end to attacks on Israel…. Elsewhere, we have seen Israeli settlers opening fire on a Palestinian funeral procession, wounding two mourners. Also, another Palestinian was stabbed in an unprovoked attack.”

    It should be remembered that Palestinian violence, while deplorable, takes place under extreme pressure. While there are a few bright spots, the Israeli settlement enterprise on the West Bank is relentlessly expanding and Palestinian life is made miserable by endless checkpoints, cruel and predatory behavior by Israeli soldiers and settlers, and the economic choking effect of the Wall. Many observers describe Gaza as “an open-air prison.” According to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine Refugees, more than 80 percent of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents depend entirely on food assistance that the organization provides.

  • abelyssah beo

    I believe through the seventies and eighties Hamas had been shooting bombs off in Israel ,bombing nightclubs and civilians at a relentless pace . I remember growing up hearing peace talks falling through and how the Israeli people were beginning to tire and see futlity in each peace process . If anyone should have an distorted view as to ‘WHO’ is forgiven the ‘tire under pressure ” is Israel ..not Palestine. Thats Israels yard ..I don’t know why the Palestinians are even there .. they have stretched the warp out so much that the true picture is being distorted . Palestine expects so much from the world and so little of itself -they believe their own distortions . ..and so do ware after years of toleration and assistance by the Israeli people . I don’t understand the tolerance .

  • abelyssah beo

    Pardon my distortion under pressure of the truth PBS – I failed to emphasise the true sorrow in regards to this post .
    Juliano Mer-Khamis rest in peace good man ..peace from all to His family.

  • Anonymous

    Abelyssah Beo wrote “I don’t know why the Palestinians are even there … That’s Israel’s yard.”

    Who do you think lived in Palestine before Israel was born?

    Regarding Israeli behavior, you may want to read “Lords of the Land” by two Jewish Israeli scholars. It is a damning indictment of the settlement enterprise and Israel’s cynical policy of “creating facts on the ground” that are very difficult to reverse.

    Another good read is “A Peace to End All Peace,” which tracks the making of the modern Middle East, including how in the Balfour Declaration, the British made a promise that wasn’t theirs to make, of other people’s land (the Palestinians’) to the zionists.

    If Israel really wants peace and security, it would seem that there are better ways to achieve it than through ever-expanding, illegal settlements on Palestinian land, and continuous humiliation and collective punishment of the Palestinian people.

  • Soulfulady

    Jim 8808 wrote, “Who do you think lived in Palestine before Israel was born?”

    Who do you think lived in the Holy Land before Palestine was born? It helps to keep present-day events in perspective. See

    Well-documented historical information and artifacts tell us that the Jews originated in the Near East/Middle East region, tracing their beginnings as a distinct group to Moses, and as the seeds of a nation to Abraham before him. Read the stories in Genesis and Exodus.

    Abelyssah Beo wrote, “I don’t understand the tolerance.” Tolerance is a prerequisite to peace. The spirit of it began in 1839 when the Edict of Tolerance was signed by the controlling government of that region at that time, the Ottoman Empire, initiating a process that took effect in 1844, and opening the way for the United Nations decision in 1944.

    In the book, Apocalypse Secrets, the author John Able, M.D. wrote, “1844 was the seminal date of conception seeding the State of Israel and ending the breaking of the power of the holy people [see Daniel 12.7], opening its embryonic stage of land-purchase, starting its fetal century of Jewish ingathering, and leading to its 1948 birth that was so painful for baby and mother.” (

    We are living in the time of return. It is a new cycle, announced in Shiraz, Persian (now Iran) to the world on May 23, 1844 by the Bab (the Gate) on May 23, 1844. He was executed in 1850, ushering in the beginning of a whole new cycle in the history of mankind, the Cycle of Fulfillment announced by the successor to the Bab, Baha’u'llah, in 1863 as a prisoner of the Ottoman Empire in exile in Iraq from Iran. Over a 40-year period, from 1852 to his passing in 1892, Baha’u'llah revealed hundreds of volumes of prayers and teachings for the peace and well-being of the world. By and large, these teachings have been rejected but they remain available to all those whose hearts are attracted to love and unity as a way of life.

    Theloving union of a Jewish woman and a Palestinian man who became the parents of Juliano Mer-Khamis offered just such a possibility but it still seems that the world has not suffered enough to want it more than division, conflict, violence and hatred. Still we are told, the Most Great Peace will come. Until then, God help us all, and God bless Juliano. May he continue to serve the cause of peace from his heavenly home.

  • Anonymous

    I’m quite aware of the Jewish presence in the ancient Middle East. Perhaps other peoples lived in the area claimed as ancient Judea prior to the Jews.

    Regardless, I don’t think such claims justify the taking of Palestinian land hundreds or thousands of years later, nor the wanton cruelty and collective punishment that Israel has engaged in.

    There are many teachings and many faiths. One can find all sorts of writings to supposedly justify all sorts of things.

    The bottom line is that if Israel wants peace and security, it will probably have to accept the pre-June-1967-War boundaries between Israel and Palestine, and tear down its ridiculous Wall.

  • Soulfulady

    You make some excellent points. I couldn’t agree with you more. It brings to mind the very land in which I am now living, the U.S., taken illegally and immorally from its native inhabitants who are still living here as “foreigners”! How strange we are as human beings. The bottom line, can’t we all just get along? If not now, when? This brings to mind two quotes from the Writings of Baha’u'llah (1817-1892):

    “So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.”
    “The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, is unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly establilshed.”

  • guest

    “Palestinian life is made miserable by endless checkpoints, cruel and predatory behavior by Israeli soldiers and settlers, and the economic choking effect of the Wall. ”

    Necessary because the Palestinian government has never been able to control the terrorists in their midst. Any of the Israelis behavior is in response to years of murder. What would you have done? I mean, really.

  • Anonymous

    It’s simply not true that all Israeli misbehavior is a response to years of murder.

    If you want to talk terrorism, we can talk about the bombing of the King David Hotel in 1946, by the zionist Irgun gang. That horror killed 91 people, including Brits, Arabs and Jews.

    Then, in 1947, the Irgun raided the village of Deir Yassin, killing all 254 inhabitants. Accounts by Red Cross and United Nations observers who visited the scene, said that the houses were first set on fire and the occupants were shot down as they came out to escape the flames. One pregnant woman had her baby cut out of her stomach with a knife.

    During the 1948 War for Independence, zionists annihilated many Palestinian villages, bull-dozed them, built on top of the rubble, and renamed them, as if they were never there. I went to an exhibit of Roman artifacts from their Middle Eastern empire, some years ago and was astonished that so many artifacts were described as being from one Palestinian city or another, with a note that the city had been demolished, renamed, and rebuilt by the Israelis.

    In May 1948, mediator Count Bernadotte from Sweden recommended in his first report that the U.N. should affirm “the right of the Arab refugees to return to their homes in Jewish controlled territory at the earliest possible date.” The following day, the Count was murdered by the zionist Stern gang.

    In 1982, when Israel was at war with the PLO in Lebanon, 700-3500 (the numbers are disputed) Palestinian and Lebanese civilians were massacred in the Sabra and Shatila camps by Christian Lebanese Phalangists while the camp was surrounded by the Israel Defense Force.

    In 2006, after Hamas’s election victory, Israel choked the Gaza strip with a devastating blockade that created a terrible humanitarian crisis, including: denial of electricity, fuel, medical supplies; serious sanitation problems, such as pollution of the water supply; economic collapse accompanied by widespread unemployment, malnutrition, and depression. It really must have been no surprise when rocket attacks on Israel eventually resumed in Gaza. There were a series of incidents in 2008, followed by a truce. The Israelis claimed that Hamas broke the truce, but it was the Israelis who broke it, killing six members of Hamas on November 4. Really, though, Israel never abided by the other condition of the truce, which was to ease the blockade. According to Robert Pastor, who accompanied former president Jimmy Carter in a Dec, 14, 2008, meeting in Damascus with Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal that Hamas offered to resume the ceasefire in return for Israel’s lifting the siege of Gaza and that Pastor promptly conveyed that offer to the Israeli military. There was no answer from the Israelis who launched the Gaza War two weeks later. Over the course of the 22 day Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, a total of 1,434 Palestinians were killed. Of these, 235 were combatants. The vast majority of the dead, however, were civilians and non-combatants: protected persons according to the principles of International Humanitarian Law. The Israelis lost 13 people, 3 of whom were non-combatants.

    These are but a few incidents, admittedly some of the worst.

    If Israel is so concerned about its security, it seems odd to pursue it through far-flung, ever-expanding settlements on Palestinian land. This strategy is coupled with crippling blockades and economy-ruining barriers and checkpoints, and it’s all enforced with a big dose of humiliation.

    The Israelis will have peace and security when they desire these things more than Palestinian land.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

    I agree that we need to recognize our unity, that doing so is really our only hope.

    Certainly, modern science seems to be edging toward the idea of everything being connected to everything else.

    Maybe the Age of Aquarius will bring a heightened awareness of this unity. Here’s hoping that it does.