On April 15, International Solidarity Movement (ISM) members grieved for one of their own, their press release headlining, “Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank unite in mourning of slain activist Vittorio Arrigoni,” saying: “People will gather in Al Manara square in Ramallah and at Al Jundi al Majhull, (Gaza’s) unknown soldier park,” honoring the death of their comrade, slain and abandoned in a house north of Gaza. More on his death below.
Other events took place throughout Palestine, including protests following Friday’s prayers across from the UN’s Gaza headquarters. Bil’in and Al Masara also dedicated their weekly demonstrations to Vittorio, Vic to his friends.
On Saturday, the Popular Committee in Nablus held a commemoration with political parties in Nablus center, celebrating his work and condemning his killing.
ISM explained his activism for Palestinian liberation and justice for almost 10 years, including the past two and a half years in Gaza with ISM:
— monitoring Israeli human rights violations;
— supporting Palestinian resistance against occupation, and siege; and
— daily violations of international law and democratic values.
Moreover, as a journalist, he wrote for the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto and Peacereporter, providing information about Gaza to a worldwide audience. The next Freedom Flotilla was renamed “Stay Human,” honoring him and his book titled, Gaza Stay Human.
Weeks earlier, he wrote comments like:
The mighty flow of blood and hope from Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria and Libya also washed over young Palestinian minds in Gaza. What started as a stream has become a torrent and will soon spill its banks…. Palestinians are working hard to mobilize thousands of people (on March 15) to the squares of Ramallah and Gaza on the day (now) named “The Day of Reconciliation” rather than “The Day of Anger.”
He also participated in the Free Gaza Movement’s August 2008 siege-breaking flotilla. Established that month, it visited Gaza nine times by sea “to break Israel’s illegal stranglehold on 1.5 million Palestinian civilians,” suffocating under siege.
However, it never was clear sailing. In 2008, Free Gaza succeeded five times, but were “violently intercepted on the(ir) past four voyages,” including the lethal May 31 massacre, killing nine or more activists and injuring many more.
Free Gaza and its coalition partners are the only organizations “sen(ding) boats directly to Gaza in defiance of Israel’s criminal” blockade. They “sail as an expression of citizen nonviolent, direct action, confronting” Israeli lawlessness, together with:
— the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza;
— IHH – the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights;
— Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief;
— the International Committee to End the Siege on Gaza;
— Ship to Gaza Sweden; and
— Ship to Gaza Greece.
Ahead, missions from growing numbers of countries plan to deliver vitally needed aid, sending a message that Israeli lawlessness won’t stand.
During Cast Lead, Arrigoni helped medics and reported on IDF attacks to a worldwide audience. As a result, Israeli forces arrested him many times for his writing, activism, and support for Palestinian liberation and justice. His last arrest and deportation came after he reported on Israel’s lawless confiscation of Gazan fishing vessels in Palestinian waters, one of many other times they’ve done it.
On April 15, a Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) press release headlined, “With Great Shock and Sorrow, PCHR Condemns the Murder of Italian Activist, Vittorio Arrigoni,” saying: That day his “body was found in an abandoned house in the north of the Gaza Strip, following his murder at the hands of kidnappers.”
According to its own investigation, extremists called “Group of the Companion Mohammed Bin Maslamah” announced his kidnapping on April 14, demanding the release of its detained members affiliated with the so-called “Salafist Jihadist Group.” If authorities didn’t release them within 30 hours, they threatened to kill him, a threat fulfilled as broadcast on You Tube.
His face showed clear signs of beating, as well as handcuffs and strangulation marks on his neck. A Gaza Ministry of Interior press release condemned the crime, announcing the arrest of two of the group’s members, as well as efforts to find the others.
On April 15, London Guardian writer Conal Urquhart headlined, “Palestinians rally to mourn kidnapped Italian activist murdered by extremists,” saying:
He was abducted to force authorities to release Sheikh Abu Walid-al-Maqdas. The New York Times named Hisham Saidani as their imprisoned Tawhid and Jihad (TJ) leader, saying “details of the crime remain muddled,” especially with TJ denying responsibility.
Luigi Ripamonti, deputy mayor of his hometown of Bulciago, told Italy’s Sky 24 Television: “Today we los(t) an Italian citizen, a citizen of Bulciago, and also a Palestinian citizen, because he married a Palestinian.”
Egidia Beretta, Bulciago’s mayor and Arrigoni’s mother said he first arrived in The Territories in 2002, where “(h)e was taken with Palestine and Palestine took to him.”
At first Hamas was reluctant to accuse anyone of the crime, suggesting possible Israeli involvement, spokesman Mahmoud Zahar saying:
“We cannot deny the relation between this incident and an international campaign by the Zionist enemy to restrict the arrival of pro-Palestinian activists. This crime is not in line with our norms as Muslims and Palestinians.”
He added that “(s)uch an awful crime cannot take place without arrangements between all the parties concerned to keep the blockade imposed.”
In Rome, the Italian Foreign Ministry said the killing was a “barbaric murder and vile and irrational gesture of violence on the part of extremists indifferent to the value of a human life.”
Haaretz said a group calling itself Monotheism and Holy War released a video showing Arrigoni blindfolded with cuts on his face. It demanded authorities free its leaders and two others or they’d kill him. Despite the video, the group denied responsibility, raising suspicions of its origin.
The Guardian said a fellow US activist, Nathan Stuckey, said he spent most of his time as a journalist, but was involved in promoting the rights of Gaza fishermen to work freely in their own waters, adding: “At the moment, he was particularly focused on the launch of our new boat, which we will use to monitor (Israel’s navy) violation of the rights of the fishermen. He often said that he now felt more at home in Gaza than in Italy and he was strongly committed to the Palestinian cause.”
Arrigoni’s death comes days after a gunman killed Juliano Mer-Khamis, an Israeli actor who ran a Jenin refugee camp theater. He also supported Palestinian liberation and justice. His mother, Arna Mer, was a Jewish activist for Palestinian rights. His father, Saliba Khamis, was born and raised in Nazareth.
In 2006, he opened the Jenin Freedom Theater with Zakariya Zubeidi, former local Al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades military leader. He was threatened numerous times, and his theater was torched twice previously. Jenin’s Governor Qadura Moussa called him a great Palestinian supporter.
Haaretz‘s senior editor and theater critic called him a “great actor and extraordinary human being whose life-story is part of the tragic reality of this country,” who in death, became “another tragic victim of life in the Middle East.”
Shot dead on April 4, he’s remembered as one of the best along with Arrigoni and Rachael Corrie, a 23-year old American peace activist, murdered in Gaza on March 16, 2003 by an Israeli bulldozer operator when she tried to stop it from demolishing a Rafah refugee camp home.
According to witnesses, she climbed up on it, spoke to the driver, climbed down, knelt 10-20 meters in front in clear view, blocking its path with her body. With activists there screaming for it to stop, the soldier-operator crushed her to death deliberately by running her over twice to be sure.
For many years, Israel killed numerous other peace activists, including Tom Hurndall, a 21-year old photojournalist shot in the head by an Israeli sniper in April 2003, trying to rescue Palestinian children under fire. He clung to life in a vegetative state until succumbing on January 13, 2004, another victim of Israeli barbarity and contempt for human life, a testimony to an out-of-control rogue state.
Like Arrigoni, Corrie and Hurndell were also ISM members, heroic peace activists for Palestinian liberation and justice.