By Lauren Booth
The killing of Vittorio (Vik) Arrigoni in Gaza this week follows (too) closely, the murder of pro-Palestinian peace activist Juliano Mer Khamis in the West Bank. Juliano, 52, was shot dead outside the Freedom Theatre in Jenin Refugee Camp on the West Bank on the 4th April. His documentary Arnas’s Children detailed the work of his mother in helping Palestinian children deal with the trauma of living under Occupation through the use of drama and self – expression.
Juliano untimely, bloody, end was one he had predicted three years ago on Israeli television.
Vittorio Arrigoni was found, this week, hung, by armed ‘fanatics’ in an apartment in Gaza. An end he would never, ever, have predicted.
There was worldwide condemnation for the killing of both men.
For friends of Vik, touched forever by his deep, smile filled voice, the pain of loss is made more acute by two factors. The first is the brutal manner of his death. For, Vik, was a gentle giant. A Samson in size and appearance, black curly hair about his rugged face. His arm muscles, there to scoop up a passing child, or wave the Palestinian flag at a moments notice, in the face of Israeli sniper fire, aimed at farmers attempting to harvest crops, or at fishing the coastal Gazan waters. That a man dedicated to non violent resistance should die in violence is bad enough.
Worse, far worse is this; that his avowed enemies the ‘Fascisti’ in Israel (as he would call the government there) seek to make political gains from a life lived in direct challenge to them. This, as much as the sight of that last, dreadful film showing his eyes taped and his face bruised, is a knife in the heart of all who loved or knew of him.
The headline ‘Italian peace activist killed by Palestinian extremists’ is an Israeli propagandists wet dream. A gift as potentially large in its political implications as the now inevitable retraction by the UN of the Goldstone report.
Two reasons. firstly, if nothing is done, and fast, Israel will use the momentum of these two machinated events, as an excuse to re-invade the Gaza Strip under the auspices of ‘terrorism and security’ issues.
Secondly, Israeli is seeking to end the growing momentum of the siege breaking movement and the increasing appeal of the ISM (International Solidarity Movement).
Which brings us to timing of both Juliano and Vittorio’s murders. Both men were respected for their creative work. Juliano, for inspiring a new generation of actors and writers in Jenin and for his film making on the subject of life under Occupation. Vik for his award winning writings and broadcasts, on the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza.
Both men were part of a new uprising, arguably, the most successful yet. The uprising that hurts Israel where it hurts most – in the TV studios of Europe and the US, right in the intelligentsia. Their impact on the Israel ‘fascisti’ machine was a phenomenon in the expanding worlds of twitter and facebook. They had voices like no others in this movement.
More, though. Vik was pivotal in the reformation of the ISM Gaza Group, the non violent resistance team, put on hold after the murders of two of its members by Israeli forces; Tom Hurndall and Rachel Corrie. After it became clear that Israel’s leaders had taken the decision not only not to ignore the human rights of internationals in the West Bank and Gaza (thus putting them on a par with Palestinians), but to actively target them. The ISM in Gaza took time to consider whether it could encourage, young activists to join them on the ever increasingly mission to accompany Gazans about their daily business. Human shield work. Tom Hurndall and Rachel Corrie’s deaths were part of a dedicated attack by Israel on the work of the increasingly effective ISM.
More recently, IOF commanders have been focusing their attention on the Freegaza Movements efforts to break the siege of Gaza by sea.
It is no coincidence then that both Juliano and Vittorio should die within two weeks. Both, at the hands of unknown Palestinian ‘cells.’ As they say on children’s TV – tell us boys and girls what’s wrong with this picture?
Israel’s supporters will doubtless feel affronted at the assertion that Vittorio was murdered by those almost certainly in the pay of the Jewish State. But they can’t have their dark ops cake and eat it too. Not this time. Too many of us have our eyes open to the filthy tactics employed by Israel every time they come under intellectual attack. And there is no doubt that Israeli Apartheid is losing traction by the day.
Still unsure who was behind Vittorio’s murder? Well, how often have the Israeli press lauded and applauded ‘covert ops’ in the Occupied Territories? Want some examples? Fine. In 1952, Shin Bet agents were sent undercover to spy inside Palestinian villages. Ten Jewish men assimilated into Arab communities in the early 1950s, marrying local women and starting families with them, were, all the while serving in the Shin Bet as “mistaarvim,” literally- masqueraders. The men learned the Palestinian dialect, studied the Quran and espionage techniques in an Intelligence Corps base near Ramla. With a detailed cover story, they were sent into Palestinian villages and cities pretending to be refugees from the Nakba returning home.
Just this year, Israel has carried out an assassination in Dubai of a Hamas member (or as it was known in the British media – the ‘passports scandal’).
More recently, Mossad operatives have kidnapped a Palestinian engineer from the Ukraine, who is now, illegally held in an Israeli prison.
And what of the sadistic coercion that Palestinians with chronic illnesses have been subjected to by Shin Bet? Known in Gaza as treachery for treatment? A Palestinian patient requests a permit from the Israeli- Palestinian Civil Liaisons Department to be allowed to travel from Gaza to the West Bank or Israel for an operation. After exhausting efforts, patients receive permits and go to Erez. Prominent human rights centres report that Shin Bet officers, then attempt to coerce and entrap patients, to do dirty work for them in their home towns and villages in return for rapid and/or ongoing medial treatment.
Yes folks, spies-for-health.
Israel then, ‘has form’ when it comes to lying, murdering, and coercion, for its own ends.
As Hamas rounds up the perpetrators of this most recent, deadly crime, the Gaza grapevine is buzzing with the news that they will indeed be found to be, (as suspected from the get-go), Israeli collaborators.
Statements of denial from the ‘Salafis’ accused of the murder have already been issued. Despite the fact the Western media is still running with the story of their guilt.
There were statements from Tawid wal – Jihad and Ma’sadat al-Mujahedin An excerpt from a statement read, “we strongly deny any responsibility for or connection to the kidnapping of the Italian (Vittorio Arrigoni)… Our statements are distributed exclusively through Shoumouk al – Islam, Attahadi Network and the Ansar al-Mujahideen Network…Any statement attributed to us that are not released through these channels, have nothing to do with us, even if they are published on Jihadi websites…”
So, who benefits from the killing of Vittorio Arrigoni? And what is the significance of the timing of his murder?
Sure, the kidnappers’ video looked genuine at first. It had all the customary layout of the kind of ‘Jihadi’ videos that the tabloid press loves: the black flag of Islam, the Quranic verse in the introduction, footage of the kidnapped victim. But a small detail on the black flag, underneath the precious, Islamically untouchable phrase ‘There is No God, but God’ raises questions about the authenticity of the groups grasp on Islam. The extra words read something like “the Brigades of Muhammad Ibn Maslama.” This has been hard for experts to verify because the video is being systematically pulled off YouTube. But one thing is certain;
‘Jihadis’ never write ANYTHING on the flag besides La Ilaha Ila Allah.
Also unusual, was the lack of customary logos of the Jihadi media distribution channels: Shoumoukh al-Islam, Ansar al-Mujahideen, Global Islamic Media Front, etc.
You know what, right now, who cares?
Vik; friend, solidarity activist, hero, author, is dead and his enemy is making gains from his life. A life dedicated to the opposition of Israeli Fascism.
So what can, what should be done, must be the focus now, not only of his friends, but of all those who support the cause of Palestinian justice.
It was in 2008, as a passenger of the Freegaza, that Vittorio arrived in Gaza for the first time. I had the pleasure of being one of the activists arriving, alongside him on that day. During the weeks preceding the successful crossing all of the passengers had considered Israel’s possible tactics for stopping a sea channel from effectively opening up. Two options seemed most likely.
A massively violent boarding of the ships, incurring several deaths that would act as a warning to other potential voyagers not to sail
The option, I feared most. The use of on-the-ground collaborators to do Israel’s dirty work for them. A network of paid for ‘cells’ who would pick off activists one by one in the Gaza strip. Thus, both terrifying the solidarity movement AND providing Israel with some much needed beneficial headlines of the kind we have seen since Vik’s death.
We know all to well, the bloody massacre that took place last year on the Mavi Marmara, committed by Israeli forces.
Now, as the second Armada plans to chart the same course on or near the anniversary of that sailing, Israel is pulling out all the stops, in its efforts to stop, frighten, threaten and deter, hundreds more activists from taking action against their Apartheid state.
Israel’s ambassador to Turkey, Gaby Levy, has just asked the Turkish government to help halt the flotilla movement saying their sailing would be a “provocation.” Asked about the pressure, a Turkish foreign ministry official told Reuters: “We listened to the message given by the Israeli side and told them this is an initiative by civil society.”
The official did not elaborate.
Strike one, for Israel.
But the efforts continued.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on EU ambassadors in Jerusalem saying “This flotilla must be stopped.”
And there’s more. On April 1, Netahyahu’s office asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to stop the flotilla setting sail.
Netanyahu told Ban Ki-moon that the mission of ships was being organized by (guess who folks?) “Islamic extremist elements” intent on bringing about “a flare-up.”
Then, on Wednesday, the morally bankrupt, Silvio Berlusconi, told Israel Radio, that he would work to prevent the next flotilla bound for Gaza, from sailing.
Berlusconi said that a peaceful Middle East is farther from reality now than it ever has been before, adding that Israel has no viable peace partner. He even asserted that Israel is the only Middle Eastern country that the West can trust, and that Israel should join the European Union.
The next day, Vik was kidnapped.
The same night, before any realistic negotiations could take place for his release, Vik was murdered.
Feeling sick yet? Yeah, me too.
Because this was a hit. A hit carried out to intimidate, to frighten off those who have already signed up for the next flotilla to Gaza and may be traveling there for the first time, those unsure of the exceptional good will and generosity of the people there. A good will Vik would tell you about.
If he were still here.
We mustn’t let the Israeli ‘fascisti’ succeed in their latest terror tactic. Early signs are that for all the pain Vik’s death has caused, all the tears that have flowed. that we, in the solidarity movement will only grow more determined, in light of this crime.
Since his death the ISM has reported a sharp rise in people wanting to go to Palestine.
Meanwhile, a Freegagza Movement contact, tells me that no one from the next convoy expected to include Turkish, Algerian, Scottish, Spanish, Dutch, Irish, Italian, Swedish, Norwegian, Jordanian, Malaysian, Indonesian, Swiss, US, Canadian, British and French nationals, has pulled out as a result of Vik’s murder.
And now, the incredible news comes: Vik’s own mother will sail to Gaza on the next flotilla.
Agidea Prata told Italian news sources yesterday; “I want to see (the) Gaza that my son loved and sacrificed for, I want to meet the good people living there that my son Vik always talked about”.
Vittorio’s mother knew about the death threats Vittorio received from a right wing American group on their website. She also knew that he loved the people of Gaza with every ounce of his formidable strength, with his every smile, and his every waking moment.
Yesterday, organizers of the Free Gaza flotilla announced that the coming voyage to Gaza will be named “Freedom Flotilla – Stay Human” in honor of our fallen friend, Vittorio Arrigoni.
Now it’s time for the Palestinian leaders to pay a decent tribute to this great man. No. Scratch that. As Vik himself would say; it’s time for them to pay a decent tribute to ALL the fallen Palestinian martyrs.
What a great day it will be if in June, Agidea Prata, Vittorio’s mother, sails to Gaza to be met by a single, united, government.
Imagine it Vik. Abbas and Haniyeh side by side. One Palestine, one voice. One government able to stop Israel from infiltrating their midsts and murdering those who come in hope and solidarity. As my dear, wonderful, strong, funny, friend, Vik would say
– Lauren Booth is a broadcaster and journalist – Mail on Sunday and Press TV, UK. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.