Actor-Director Mourned By Both Israelis, Palestinians Juliano Mer Khamis, who was gunned down this week, was born to an Israeli Jewish mother and Palestinian Christian father. His life's work used art to teach Israelis and Palestinians about each other, and encourage Palestinian resistance, through his Freedom Theatre in Jenin.
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Actor-Director Mourned By Both Israelis, Palestinians

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Actor-Director Mourned By Both Israelis, Palestinians

Actor-Director Mourned By Both Israelis, Palestinians

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Juliano Mer Khamis was killed this week outside the theater and school he ran in the West Bank. The 52-year-old actor and director was born to an Israeli Jewish mother and a Palestinian Christian father. He used art to teach Israelis and Palestinians about each other, and encourage Palestinian resistance through his Freedom Theatre in Jenin.

Sheera Frenkel reports.

SHEERA FRENKEL: A schoolchildren's play in Jenin is one of the opening scenes in the movie that made Juliano both a political and artistic icon. The movie, called "Arna's Children," follows his mother, whom Juliano describes as a controversial figure.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ARNA'S CHILDREN")

JULIANO MER KHAMIS: In 1989, my mother started a project in the refugee camp of Jenin. The aim of this project was to educate and support the children of the camp.

FRENKEL: That's Juliano as he narrates the film. It's a look at the Freedom Theatre in Jenin and its first students in the 1990s. He follows their lives in the ensuing years. Many have died violently - some as fighters or suicide bombers - during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

The refugee camp in Jenin was the site of some of the heaviest fighting during that conflict and the base for some of the fiercest militant groups. It was from among their ranks that Juliano and his mother found many of their future thespians.

Rabiah Turkman was one them. Turkman says he was persuaded to visit the Freedom Theatre and was immediately hooked, although he still considers himself a freedom fighter. Turkman was one of the few students in the school on the day Juliano died.

It was Tuesday, just after 5 in the afternoon when Juliano took his infant son and babysitter and left for home. Just 50 meters outside the theater, Juliano's car came under fire from an assailant wearing a mask. Juliano was killed, but his son and his babysitter were unharmed.

Several suspects have been arrested since the shooting, one of them a well- known member of a conservative Islamist group that opposed the theater and tried to burn it down several times.

Nabil al-Ra'ee, one of the Freedom Theatre's directors, says that conservative Muslims were angered that Juliano allowed men and women to appear on stage together, and that students were exposed to what he called progressive ideology in plays such as "Animal Farm."

NABIL AL: You know, he's a leader. He was opening a space for a new policy bigger than the Freedom Theatre itself. Yeah, for a lot of people, it's an uncomfortable situation to be open minded.

FRENKEL: Nabil says that Juliano often spoke to him about being a martyr for his cause - the expression of arts.

AL: He was always telling me, like, I want to die, I want to scream, like dying from a bullet in my head. And, yeah, we were always joking about that, but I never expected it to happen, really, in this bad way without any mercy.

FRENKEL: On Thursday of this week, friends and family of Juliano organized an open day at the Freedom Theatre. It was the day after Juliano was buried alongside his mother in the Kibbutz Ramot Menashe cemetery in Israel. Rabiah Turkman says that no one will officially replace Juliano at the theatre, but he says it will stay open.

TURKMAN: My idea now - Juliano, he teach me, and I want to teach other children for art revolution, for Freedom fighter.

FRENKEL: After Thursday's ceremony in Jenin, the mourners marched through the twisting alleyways of the refugee camp.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FRENKEL: They played his favorite songs from a car speaker. Songs about a Palestinian state, about peace and about art. It was what Juliano would have wanted, they said - one last chance to reach out to the community.

For NPR News, I'm Sheera Frenkel.

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