JERUSALEM — A prominent Israeli actor and director who mentored young Palestinians at a youth theater that he founded in the West Bank town of Jenin was fatally shot Monday in the community’s refugee camp.
Juliano Mer Khamis, 52, born to a Jewish mother and a Christian Arab father, personified the complexities of the conflict dividing his country.
He served in Israel’s army as a paratrooper and portrayed Israeli Jews in film and on stage, but he cast his lot with the Palestinians.
Following in the footsteps of his mother, who ran a youth theater in Jenin in the 1980s, Mer Khamis founded the Freedom Theater in the town’s refugee camp in 2006 with Zakaria Zubeidi, a former Palestinian militant leader.
The project, which included a drama school, was an effort to provide local youngsters with an alternative to the hardships of camp life and the violence that raged on the streets for years during an uprising against Israeli occupation.
Mer Khamis was walking to his car near the theater on Monday when a masked man approached him and fired five times, a witness and the local police chief said.
The shooting shook Jenin, where Palestinian security forces had restored order after years of dominance by armed militants.
A statement from the office of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said that he had ordered security forces to work “round the clock” to find the assailant and bring him to justice. Fayyad called the killing “a despicable crime” that “goes against our people’s morals and beliefs in coexistence.”
Mer Khamis’s activities in the Jenin camp had been criticized by religious conservatives, who objected to the mingling of boys and girls at the theater and accused the project of promoting permissive social norms. The theater was burned twice in recent years.
Mer Khamis sparked anger when he staged the play “Animal Farm,” in which actors played the roles of pigs, considered impure animals in Islam. He said he shelved plans to stage a play satirizing armed resistance after a window of his car was smashed. He also reported receiving threats.
The actor appeared in almost 30 movies, playing prominent roles in several critically acclaimed Israeli films. He also appeared in “The Little Drummer Girl,” a 1984 American thriller that starred Diane Keaton and was based on a book by John Le Carre.
Special correspondent Sufian Taha contributed to this report.