Jenin Camp Residents Stymie Juliano Mer Murder Probe

Senior Palestinian security source says Jenin residents are refusing to cooperate with investigation; Attorney for Mer's family claims four law enforcement agencies investigating the death aren't working hard enough to solve case.

Almost two months after Israeli actor and political activist Juliano Mer-KKhamis was shot dead in Jenin, there are no leads in the investigation. Of the four law enforcement agencies investigating the case - the Palestinian police, the Israel Police, the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service - none seems to be working particularly hard to solve it, says Abeer Baker, the attorney for the family, who has been in touch with the district police in Ariel about the case.

Forensic tests and the autopsy were carried out in Israel, but the Palestinian security services are in charge of looking for the gun and locating eye witnesses. A Palestinian security source told Haaretz that residents of the refugee camp in Jenin where Mer-Khamis was shot refuse to cooperate with the Palestinian Authority forces investigating the murder, impeding the investigation.

Juliano Mer Coffin - 2011 -  Yaron Kaminsky
Yaron Kaminsky

A resident of the camp, who is a veteran member of one of the Palestinian Liberation Organization groups and knowledgeable on the matter, told Haaretz that the PA's fear of clashing with camp residents is preventing it from pursuing the probe as intensely as it should.

Right after Mer-Khamis' murder on April 4, the PA had reportedly arrested a number of suspects who were released shortly thereafter. Officials close to the PA in Ramallah said that the Palestinian police released a key suspect after potential eye witnesses said they had seen nothing.

The nanny for Mer-Khamis' baby, who was in his car at the time of the shooting, could not identify a suspect when questioned by the Palestinian police. The Israelis did not question her.

Sources at Freedom Theater, which Mer-Khamis established in Jenin, said the Palestinian police had not bothered to investigate who was behind the threatening flyers distributed against the theater before and after the murder.

Despite a promise made by PA President Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting he held with a delegation of Israeli-Arab writers and artists, the Palestinian police are not guarding the theater; the actors are rehearsing for a new play outside the camp.

At the meeting, which took place about 10 days after the murder, Abbas said the PA would make every effort to solve the murder.

Right after the murder, the IDF demanded and received from the PA a summary of its findings from the crime scene, along with Mer-Khamis' car, his cell phone and his computer. The actor's friends in Haifa and Jenin said they believed clues helpful to the investigation in terms of the threats he faced could be found in his computer and phone. But Baker, the family's attorney, said the police have informed her that they have no findings to report so far.

The spokeswoman for the Samaria and Judea District police told Haaretz the autopsy report had been sent to the Justice Ministry with a recommendation that it be sent to the Palestinian Authority.

Residents of the refugee camp said the man who shot Mer-Khamis covered his face with a stocking cap only as he fled the scene and that he removed it about 150 meters away when he got into a car. The cap fell out of his pocket and is now in the possession of the Palestinian police.

The police spokeswoman said she could not confirm whether the Ariel police had obtained the cap because the case was still under investigation.

Baker said she was told that the Israel Police is not the agency responsible for the probe.

The Shin Bet confirmed to Haaretz that it and the IDF are jointly investigating the murder, although the Shin Bet would not confirm to Haaretz whether it was in charge of the probe.

Secrets are said to be hard to keep in the refugee camp, especially because it is assumed that the PA security agencies have numerous undercover agents operating in the camp.

Some people in the camp believe that the PA's inability to solve the murder, coupled with Israeli slowness in solving the murder of an Israeli citizen, show the Shin Bet and the Palestinian authorities are cooperating. But Mer-Khamis' Palestinian friends are not convinced this is true.

The dead-end probe also raises questions about the attitude of the residents of the camp to Freedom Theater, which was considered particularly daring and critical, and threats prior to the murder show that certain circles in the camp saw it as a foreign element.

A native and former resident of the camp, who is a Fatah member, told Haaretz the theater "was more important abroad than to Palestinians in the West Bank and the camp."

In contrast, Mer-Khamis' friends in Haifa say the theater was a lodestone for school children and a home for young actors, giving them joy during the hard years of the intifada.

But Mer-Khamis' friends, Baker, Palestinian police officials and camp residents all agree that it will be embarrassing if the IDF and the Shin Bet are the ones to raid the camp looking for suspects.