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29 May 1958
|Died||4 April 2011 (aged 52)|
Jenin, West Bank
|Cause of death||Assassination|
|Resting place||Kibbutz Ramot Menashe, Israel|
|Occupation||Actor, director, activist|
|Spouse(s)||Jenny Nyman (?–2011; his death; 3 children)|
Juliano Mer-Khamis (Hebrew: ג'וליאנו מר ח'מיס; Arabic: جوليانو مير خميس; born Juliano Khamis; 29 May 1958 – 4 April 2011) was an Israeli Jewish/Palestinian Arab actor, director, filmmaker, and political activist of Jewish and Palestinian Eastern Orthodox Christian parentage. On 4 April 2011, he was assassinated by a masked gunman in the Palestinian city of Jenin, where he established The Freedom Theatre.
Juliano Khamis (later Mer-Khamis) was born in Nazareth, the son of Arna Mer-Khamis, a former Palmach combatant who had turned communist on experiencing disenchantment with Zionism after participating in operations to drive the Bedouin out of parts of the Negev, and Saliba Khamis, an Israeli Arab of Eastern Orthodox Palestinian Christian descent who was an intellectual as well as one of the leaders of the Israeli Communist Party in the 1950s. He was called Sputnik Khamas at birth. He had two brothers, Spartacus and Abir. His maternal grandfather was Gideon Mer, a scientist who pioneered the study of malaria during the British Mandate. His father abandoned their household when he was 10 years old. He attended school in Haifa. His cousin is Palestinian hip-hop singer Shadia Mansour.
Mer-Khamis was married to Jenny Nyman, a Finnish woman who did administrative and fundraising work for the Jenin theater. They had three sons. Khamis saw the birth of one son, but was killed when his wife was pregnant with their twins. She gave birth to the twins a month after his death, and moved to Haifa to raise them.
Mer-Khamas served in the Israeli Defense Forces as a combat soldier in the Paratroopers Brigade. He was a volunteer, since the army did not send him his draft papers, and he was eager to fight for his country, and on the occasion In his youth, he adopted his maternal surname, Mer, dropping the surname Khamis which identified him as an Arab and had caused him problems among fellow Jews. While his mother was supportive of his enlistement, his father opposed it saying that the IDF was a fascist institution. Mer-Khamas didn't disagree, but countered that, 'I must see with my own eyes that they are really fascist'. He was eventually stationed in Jenin. According to him, one of his tasks was to carry a weapons bag and if someone was killed by accident, a weapon would be left on the corpse. Mer-Khamis said that while his squad was engaged in night-time firing practice they shot a shoulder missile at a donkey, accidentally killing a young girl seated on it. Mer-Khamis said that a load of explosives were left on the donkey to cover up the incident. He recalls beating up Palestinian protestors after they refused to disperse. When asked why, he recalled:
'I wanted to be on one side. I wanted to be with somebody. Because I felt like nobody.'
At one point he refused to obey his commanding officer's order to frisk an elderly man, punching the former instead, and spent several months in prison. His release was won by the direct intervention of Isser Harel, who was his mother's cousin.
On his release from the stockade, he enrolled in acting school, and discovered his abilities in that field. He made an appearance in The Little Drummer Girl dealing with Palestinian terrorism. In 1987 he spent a year in the Philippines, consuming hallucinogenic mushrooms and talking to monkeys. It was there that he felt, according to a later declaration, that he had shaken off all identities. On his return, he lived as a beachcomber in Tel Aviv, on olives, labneh and garlic, and protested against Israel's response to the first intifada by stripping himself and walking about covered in fake blood. Mishmish Or, an Israeli Jew of Turkish paternal and Egyptian maternal descent, picked him up off the sidewalks and gave him shelter. He eventually had a daughter, Milay, with her. In the meantime his mother Arna set up a children's center to teach over 1500 children in the Jenin camp and asked her son to join her there to teach drama therapy.
When the Al-Aqsa intifada broke out, two of his former students, Yusuf Sweitat and Nidal al-Jabali, became suicide bombers in October 2001 at Hadera. Two weeks earlier, a girl whom Sweitat had salvaged from a school classroom that had just been bombed by the IDF died as he carried her to the hospital. Hearing the news, Juliano returned to Jenin a month after the Battle of Jenin had begun. His host was a former student, Ala’a Sabbagh, then aged 22, leader of Jenin's Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, and he spent several months on patrol with men on Israel's hit list, and in hideouts, with Sabbagh and Zacharia Zubeidi, whose mother had been killed in April 2002 by an Israeli sniper who perhaps mistook her for her son Tata, who was also subsequently shot dead an hour later. He made a film of the period, Arna's Children, released in 2004.
Outside of the theater he devoted himself to allaying everyday problems: driving pregnant women to Israeli hospitals, or Jenin's children to Haifa's beaches, or providing medicines and food.
The theater he founded thrives, under the general management of the Swedish Israeli Jonathan Stanczyk, with actor Nabil al-Raee as artistic director.
Mer-Khamis's first film, The Little Drummer Girl, was an American thriller from 1984 directed by George Roy Hill and starring Diane Keaton, which dealt with the Israeli-Arab conflict. He starred in Avi Nesher's film, Za'am V'Tehilah (1985). Later he appeared in such Israeli films as 51 Bar (1985), Wedding in Galilee (1987), Tel Aviv Stories (1992), Zohar (1993), Under the Domim Tree (1994), and Overture 1812 (1997). He appeared in several films by Amos Gitai: Kedma, Esther (1986) and Kippur (2000).
In 2002, Mer-Khamis was nominated for the Ophir award for Best Actor for his role in Kedma. One of the last films in which he appeared was the Palestinian film Salt of this Sea (2008), which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
He performed on stage with Beit Lessin Theater and Habima Theatre. In 2003, he produced and directed his first documentary film, Arna's Children, together with Danniel Danniel. The film is about his mother's work to establish a children's theatre group in Jenin during the 1980s. Seven years after the death of his mother, and following the battle in Jenin in 2002, Mer-Khamis returned to Jenin to meet and interview the children who participated in the theater, and found out that some became militants and were killed.
In 2011 he joined the faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts, Tel Aviv, where he taught acting until his assassination.
In 2006, following a wave of international support which was followed by his film, Mer-Khamis opened a community theater for children and adults in Jenin, called The Freedom Theatre.
In 2006, Mer-Khamis established the Freedom Theatre along with Zakaria Zubeidi, a former military leader of the Jenin Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, Jonatan Stanczak, a Swedish-Israeli activist, and Dror Feiler, a Swedish-Israeli artist. The Freedom Theatre is a community theatre that provides opportunities for the children and youth of the Jenin Refugee Camp by developing skills, self-knowledge and confidence and using the creative process as a model for social change.
Mer-Khamis was shot by masked gunmen in leaving the theater he had founded in Jenin. He had just started to drive away in his Citroen, with his baby son Jay on his lap, when a masked gunman emerged from a nearby alley and asked him to stop. The babysitter with them advised him to drive on, but he stopped, and was shot five times. He was rushed to the Jenin Hospital, where he was pronounced dead after his arrival. PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad condemned the killing, saying that "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."
In an interview in 2008, Juliano had foreseen the circumstances of his murder, predicting jokingly that he would be killed by a 'fucked-up Palestinian’ for ‘corrupting the youth of Islam’. After being identified by the baby-sitter in three separate line-ups, Palestinian police charged Mujahed Qaniri, from Jenin's refugee camp, with having carried out the murder. There are varying accounts of Qamiri's affiliation: some describe him as a former member of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades who defected to Hamas, but a Hamas spokesman has denied any involvement, describing this as a purely criminal incident.
|1984||The Little Drummer Girl||Julio|
|1985||Not Quite Paradise||Hassan (terrorist)|
|1985||Za'am V'Tehilah||Edy, aka "the butcher"|
|1987||Wedding in Galilee (Urs al-Jalil)||Officer|
|1993||Sipurei Tel-Aviv (Tel Aviv Stories)||Jeno|
|1994||Nothing to Lose||Antonio Valdez|
|1994||Under the Domim Tree (Etz Hadomim Tafus)||Ariel|
|1995||Night Terrors (film)||Mahmoud (as Juliano Mer)|
|2000||The Last Patrol||Jesus Carrero|
|2003||Arna's Children||Himself||Won FIPRESCI Prize|
|2004||God's Sandbox (Tahara)||Nagim||Nominated for Best Actor|
|2008||Salt of this Sea||Hiking leader||Palestinian submission for Oscar in "Best Foreign Language Film" category|
|2009||Hadutha Saghira||Israeli soldier|
|1992||Sweating Bullets||Melito||Series – played in "Don't Say Nothing Bad About My Baby" episode|
|1996||The Revolutionary II||Centurion||Video|
|2001||1000 Calories||Eitan Katz||TV movie|
Arab-Israeli actor Juliano Mer-Khamis, who was murdered in Jenin on Tuesday is being laid to rest at the kibbutz Ramot Menashe cemetery, where he will be buried next to his mother Arna. Israeli and Arab actors acco[m]panied him on his final journey.
Many of the jolts and tribulations experienced by the three brothers stem from their childhood as the sons of an Arab intellectual father Saliba Khamis and a Jewish mother, Arna Mer, a relentless idealist who joined Maki (the Israeli Communist Party).
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