Israeli actor and political activist Juliano Mer-Khamis, 52, was shot dead on Monday outside a theater which he founded in a refugee camp in the West Bank city of Jenin.
Jenin police chief Mohammed Tayyim said Mer-Khamis was shot five times by masked Palestinian militants, but that Israeli security forces were still investigating the circumstances of his murder. A Palestinian ambulance took his body to a nearby checkpoint to be transferred into Israel.
Mer-Khamis was well-known as an actor for his film and theater roles, both in Israel and abroad, and had made a name for himself as a director and a political activist, as well.
Based in Israel, Mer-Khamis was affiliated with the local theater in Jenin, established by his mother in the 1980s. In 2006, Mer-Khamis opened the Freedom Theater in Jenin, along with Zakariya Zubeidi, the former military leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades in that West Bank city.
Zubeidi was appointed co-theater director in an attempt to subdue the ongoing threats voiced against both the institution and Mer-Khamis. The theater itself was torched twice in the past, and the threats persisted despite Zubeidei's appointment.
Some of the criticism focused on the fact that the theater offered co-ed activities, despite prohibition in the Islamic moral code.
Objectors were also outraged when Mer-Khamis staged the play "Animal Farm", in which the young actors played the part of a pig, which Islam considers an impure animal.
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.
Jenin governor Qadura Moussa called Mer Khamis a great supporter of the Palestinian people. He said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told him to bring those responsible for his death to justice.
Michael Handesaltz, senior editor and theater critic for Haaretz, described Mer-Khamis as a "great actor, an extraordinary human being whose life-story is part of the tragic reality of this country", who in his death became "another tragic victim of life in the Middle East".
Director Amos Gitai, who directed Mer-Khamis in the 2000 film "Kippur," said in response 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 its real, he is a larger than life," Gitai said.
"We have been served so many warning signs and calling signs, that I don’t know what will become of us," he added.
Director Avi Nesher, who directed Mer-Khamis in "Rage and Glory" in 1985 said that he felt like a member of his family had died. "He was one of the most talented people I ever worked with," Nesher said, adding that "it is hard to imagine who would want to kill him and why, and it is very disturbing, in the most profound way."
"I don’t understand the murder," he added. "he was a man who was totally there to deal with the things he believed in and I find it hard to understand the twisted rational of the people who did this."