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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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