Earlier this week the Israeli-Arab actor and peace activist Juliano Mer Khamis, 52, was shot dead, presumably by Palestinian militants. The New York Times had a moving story about the funeral for Mer Khamis held on Wednesday, reporting that the Israeli government allowed his coffin to be taken briefly to the edge of a West Bank checkpoint. They made the gesture so his Palestinian supporters could pay their respects, as they were not permitted to go to his burial inside Israel.
I’m highlighting the story not only because it’s a poignant one, epitmozing the conflicting actions–the shared suffereing; the unyielding strife–that happens daily in Israeli-Palesitinain borders. I’m also pointing it out because Mer Khamis had a role in Julian Schnabel’s controversial new film, "Miral," which is based off the life a Palestinian girl who joins the first intifada.
I spoke with Schnabel over the phone last Friday, and an edited, condensed version of our interview is on our website here. Mer Khamis was still alive when we spoke, so I obviously didn’t ask him about his death. But the life of Mer Khamis is a evocative one, which is detailed in this Ha’aretz story, published shortly after he was murdered.
It explains how Palesitinian militants had him as marked man for some time. Mer Khamis’ father was an Arab Christian and his mother a Jewish Israeli. His mother formed a theater troupe for Palestinians and Jews in the 1980s, a project which Mer Khamis eventually took over. In 2006, he founded the Freedom Theater in the West Bank city of Jenin, which drew controversy immediately after it was established.
Some Arabs criticized him for making his company co-ed, which many deem sacrilege. When he staged a version of "Animal Farm," in which some actors played pigs, religious Muslim critics were further enraged. And when he planned to stage "The Lieutenant of Inishmore," Martin McDonagh’s satire of war, his car window smashed. He canceled the show after that.
No word on whether Mer Khamis’ participation in Schnabel’s film had anything to do with his death. But whatever the case, at least there appear to be both Arabs and Jews who are deeply disturbed. The Arab governor of Jenin, reports Ha’aretz, called Mer Khamis a great supporter of the Palestinians, and was told by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, to bring the killers to justice.
And in addition to the Arabs who visited his coffin on Wednesday, legions of Israeli Jews have expressed there support. As the Israeli director Avi Nesher, who’s used Mer Khamis in films and considers him a close friend, said: "I don’t understand the murder," Nesher told Ha’aretz. "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."