On the afternoon of Saturday, 4 April 2011, Juliano Mer-Khamis walked out of the Freedom Theatre in the Jenin refugee camp and got into his old red Citroën. It was four o’clock, the sun was hot and the street crowded. He put his baby son, Jay, on his lap, placing the boy’s fingers on the steering wheel; the babysitter sat next to them. As he set off, a man in a balaclava came out of an alleyway and told him to stop. He had a gun. The babysitter told Juliano to keep driving, but he stopped. The gunman shot him five times, then walked back down the alley. He left his mask in the street. Jay survived; the babysitter escaped with minor injuries. When Israeli soldiers arrived, less than thirty minutes later, Juliano was dead. They took his body to Israel, along with his car, computer, wallet and other effects.
Juliano was the founder of the Freedom Theatre. He was an Israeli citizen, the son of a Jewish mother and therefore a Jew in the eyes of the Jewish state. But his father was a Palestinian from Nazareth, and Juliano was a passionate believer in the Palestinian cause. He would often say he was ‘100 per cent Palestinian and 100 per cent Jewish’, but in Israel he was seldom allowed to forget he was the son of an Arab, and in Jenin he was seen as an Israeli, a Jew, no matter how much he did for the camp. Among the artists and intellectuals of Ramallah, however, he was admired for having left Israel to work in one of the toughest parts of the West Bank, and was accepted as an ally. Since its founding in 2006, the Freedom Theatre had been under constant fire: local conservatives saw it as a corrupting influence, even a Zionist conspiracy; the Palestinian Authority resented what Juliano said about its ‘co-operation’ with Israel; and Israel saw him as a troublemaker, if not a traitor.
Shortly after the murder, Mahmoud Abbas declared Juliano a shaheed, a martyr. But though he may have given his life to the Palestinian cause, he was not killed by an Israeli bullet.