Israeli, Palestinian Artists Demand In-depth Probe of Mer-Khamis Murder

Founder of Freedom Theater in Jenin refugee camp was shot four years ago, yet neither Israel nor PA has seriously searched for killer, say petitioners.

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The funeral procession for actor, director and political activist Juliano Mer-Khamis, who was shot dead in Jenin, April 6, 2011
The funeral procession for actor, director and political activist Juliano Mer-Khamis, who was shot dead in Jenin, April 6, 2011

More than 80 Israeli and Palestinian intellectuals and playwrights have signed a petition calling on Israeli and Palestinian law enforcement forces to resume the investigation into the murder of Israeli Jewish/Palestinian actor, filmmaker and political activist Juliano Mer-Khamis in Jenin four years ago. Mer-Khamis was shot from close range on April 4, 2011 by a masked man next to the Freedom Theater he had set up and directed in the Jenin refugee camp. He was 53 when he died, leaving behind a wife, three sons and a daughter. Despite arrests and investigations conducted after his death, a murderer has not been apprehended and the motives for the murder remain unclear.

The petition, published in Arabic, Hebrew and English, is signed by, among others, the singer Amal Murkus, stage director Ofira Hoenig, playwright Joshua Sobol and actor Ziad Bakri.

“Instead of focusing on the murderers and on locating them, we’ve seen efforts directed against members of the Freedom Theater at the Jenin refugee camp, which was the victim’s life work,” states the petition. “Juliano was an exceptional example of someone devoting himself to principles and to art, in the service of the struggle for freedom in all its forms. His cold-blooded murder inflicted a severe blow to a cultural initiative that was part of him and for which he worked. Not finding those responsible deeply damages the values of justice and freedom, leaving his enterprise bleeding and aching. We demand an intensive and thorough investigation and the immediate prosecution of those responsible.”

Attorney Abir Baker, who is representing Mer-Khamis’s widow Jenny Nyman and their three sons, told Haaretz that Israel Police has evidence from the crime scene and the Palestinian Authority has some relevant information, but she has received no response to her appeals to both sides, seeing no signs of cooperation in pursuing the case.

“Since the murder the conception in Israel is that the murderer came from within the theater,” Baker says. “There was a wave of arrests of theater members that led nowhere, other than unrelated charges such as possession of illegal arms or political activity. We gradually realized that the theater itself has become a target of investigation and that pursuit of the murderers was abandoned. This investigation can’t be conducted as if it was just another case among many such crimes – a public effort is required to make it a top priority, otherwise no one will deal with it seriously. I don’t believe that the murder of an ordinary Israeli in the occupied territories would have remained unsolved for four years.”

Baker feels that even though Mer-Khamis was a well-known actor, his colleagues haven’t done enough to fight for discovering the truth and prosecuting the murderer. “It could be that the Palestinians fear that if the murderer is found Israel will demand his extradition,” she said. “But we don’t care who prosecutes the perpetrator – we want him to pay the penalty after a fair trial. We have no interest in incriminating innocent people and demand an immediate investigation that is as transparent as possible.”

The theater at the refugee camp was established by Mer-Khamis’s mother, Arna, during the first intifada. In 2006 Mer-Khamis wanted to commemorate her through a theater he established next to a children’s home she founded. Alongside the Freedom Theater he set up a school for theater and cinema, as well as a computer center for refugee children. These carried a message of peace between the two nations, attracting many volunteers from around the world. Before the murder, the theater was torched twice and he and the theater received constant threats, particularly from extremist Moslems who objected to the activity taking place there.

One of the petition’s organizers, the Israeli-Palestinian film actress Salwa Nakara, told Haaretz of the frustration felt by the friends of Mer-Khamis due to the case’s falling between Israeli and Palestinian authorities, each of which attributes responsibility to the other. “Every day people from the theater are arrested, they go in and out of investigations, but no one knows anything. Anyone spreading values that are wrong for Israelis and Palestinians is unwanted. It’s as if he and the world he brought with him were plastered over, including his art and what he created there. It’s as if he was worthless in life and in death. We’ve hit a brick wall, with no one to talk to. We can’t remain silent any longer.”

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