The murder of Israeli actor Juliano Mer-Khamis in Jenin on Monday was most likely a pre-mediated and well-planned assassination, Palestinian former militant Zakarya Zubeidi told Haaretz.
"There is one organization or body, central, big, behind this act," said Zubeidi, who once headed the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade in Jenin and went on to co-manage the Freedom Theater in the West Bank city with Mer-Khamis. "This was not a simple operation. There is a big hand directed."
A lone masked gunman waited for Mer-Khamis at his car near the theater, said Zubeidi, and shot him at close range. It was still not yet clear who stood behind the murder, but Zubeidi said the Palestinian security forces were investigating with vigor.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on Monday condemned the murder, declaring in a statement: "We cannot stand silent in the face of this ugly crime. It constitutes a grave violation that goes beyond all principles and human values and it contravenes with the customs and ethics of co-existence."
Jenin police chief Mohammed Tayyim said Mer-Khamis was shot five times by a masked gunman. His body was brought by Palestinian ambulance to a nearby checkpoint, and then transferred into Israel.
Mer Khamis was born in the Israeli-Arab city of Nazareth to a Jewish-Israeli mother and an Israeli-Arab Christian father. He served in the Israeli army as a paratrooper and portrayed Israeli Jews in many of his roles both in film and on stage.
In 2006, Mer-Khamis opened the Freedom Theater. Zubeidi was appointed co-manager 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.
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."
"He was a special person, brave but crazy to do what he did," said fellow actor Alon Abutbul.
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