'Arna's Children' Director Shot by Masked Men in West Bank

Exec. Prod. of Franchises & Series. He previously reported for HuffPost, L.A. Daily Journal, and Biloxi Sun-Herald.
Protesters hold photos of Juliano Mer Khamis at a memorial rally in Ramallah on Monday. (Photo: Reuters)

Juliano Mer Khamis, the well-known Israeli peace activist and actor who directed the 2004 documentary Arna's Children, was killed by masked gunman Monday in the West Bank city of Jenin. 

Witnesses said that Mer Khamis was shot five times by two assailants while he was in his car outside the theater he founded in Jenin. His 1-year-old child and a nanny were also in the car.

Mer Khamis, an Israeli citizen, was the son of a Jewish mother and Palestinian father. He split his time between the Israeli cities of Haifa and Jenin.

In a part of the world that is so easily associated with polarizing violence, Mer Khamis refused to choose sides, telling Israel army radio in 2009, "I am 100 percent Palestinian; I am 100 percent Jewish."

Arna's Children, which was distributed by TakePart's parent company, Participant Media, told the story of Mer Khamis's mother, Arna, a legendary peace and human rights activist in her own right: 

Arna founded an alternative education system for Palestinian children whose lives had been disrupted by Israeli occupation. In the Jenin refugee camp, Arna opened a theater group where she taught the children to express anger, bitterness and fear through acting and art. The children slowly grew to trust and to love Arna: "She's like my mother," says one child. "She helps us. She saved us from the streets." Arna's son, Juliano Mer Khamis, was a director at the theater group and filmed his mother and the children rehearsing and performing over a six year period. When Arna died of cancer in 1995, the theater group struggled to continue for another two years but ultimately did not survive.

Five years after Arna's death, Juliano, now one of the region's leading actors, returns to the camp to discover what happened to Arna's children. Shifting back and forth in time, Mer Khamis's film juxtaposes the sweet-faced young boys with the militants and martyrs they become. Arna's Children reveals the tragedy and horror of young lives trapped by the circumstances of occupation.

Mer Khamis had received threats over the years for his activism and his work in Jenin. The Freedom Theatre, which he founded to carry on his mother's legacy, had been attacked, and Molotov cocktails were once hurled through the windows. No one was hurt.  

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad condemned the killing, saying, "it constitutes a grave violation that goes beyond all principles and human values and it contravenes with the customs and ethics of co-existence."

Agence France Presse reported that a group of about 50 Palestinian actors and artists gathered in a central square to protest the killing. 

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