Michael Jansen: Murder of Vittorio Arrigoni - 17 April 2011
Hammas has accused Israel of indirect responsibility for the abduction and murder of Italian rights activist Vittorio Arrigoni whose body was found Thursday in an empty flat in Gaza city. Israel certainly bears much of the blame. If Israel had not imposed a punitive siege and blockade on the coastal strip, Arrigoni may never have gone to Gaza to protest its harsh treatment of 1.5 million Palestinians. His initial trip to Gaza was in August 2008 aboard one of the tiny, frail boats that made the passage from Cyprus to Gaza on the first successful mission mounted by the Free Gaza blockade-busting movement. The 44 crew and passengers, who sailed into Gaza’s small fishing port, were accorded a spectacular welcome by Palestinians imprisoned in the strip for years.
These two small boats – Greek island-hopping ferry and fishing vessel – were the first for centuries to reach Gaza without passing through controls by occupying powers.
Arrigoni and the others were awarded honourary passports by Gaza’s de facto Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, which had seized control of the strip in 2007. During their stay, Hamas put them up in the best hotel on the beach front and, fearing that its rival Fatah or Israel could harm the activists, provided security.
The Free Gaza movement made several other voyages to the strip, carrying activists and medical supplies, the last being at the end of October 2008. Arrigoni went on that trip and stayed on through Israel’s war on the strip, which began on December 27th and ended January 18th, 2009. During this terrible onslaught, when 1,445 Gazan’s were killed, 900 of them civilians, and 5,000 wounded, Arrigoni and other members of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), to which he belonged, assisted ambulance teams and reported on what was happening on the ground.
Many of the more than 500 journalists who had assembled in Jerusalem but were not permitted by Israel or Egypt to enter Gaza depended on news received over tenuous mobile phone connections to ISM members volunteering with ambulance crews and undertaking other war work. Before and after the conflict Arrigoni went to sea with Gazan fishermen seeking to cast their nets within the 20 nautical mile limit prescribed in the Oslo accords.
Over the past few years Israel cut down the permitted fishing zone to six and then three miles. Israeli coastal patrol boats routinely harrass these fishermen, arresting and firing on them and ramming their small craft. Arrigoni was wounded when Israeli sailors fired on a Palestinian fishing boat. Arrigoni accompanied Palestinian farmers seeking to cultivate their land and harvest their crops in the 300 meter-1.5 kilometer buffer – and free fire – zone imposed by Israel on the Gaza side of the frontier. This land amounts to a significant percentage of cultivable land in the densely populated strip and poor Palestinian farmers simply cannot afford to be denied the right to work it.
Many have been shot, wounded and killed, doing so. The presence of “internationals” deters Israeli shooters. Arrigoni also wrote a blog and articles for Italian news-papers and, once the war was over, a book about Gaza and its people.
His friends believe Israel had a hand in his death. Hamas security officials who found Arrigoni’s body said he had been killed soon after being kidnapped on Thursday although his abductors had demanded the release by Friday evening of their leader and two members of their group as the price for his life and freedom.
It is curious that the abductors made such a demand and killed Arrigoni before seeing whether Hammas was prepared to release the detained members of the group. Some sources speculate that the abductors became afraid of capture and killed him in panic while others suggest that they did not belong to a group at all but simply wanted to harm Hammas and intimidate the ISM and the Free Gaza movement which are planning to challenge Israel with a summer flotilla to Gaza.
The cuprits claimed they belonged to Tawhid-wa-Jihad (Monotheism and Holy War), a radical, puritan Muslim (Salafi) group. But Tawhid and the other Salafi factions condemned the murder as “against the teachings of Islam” and denied involvement. Since Hammas took power in Gaza, Salafis have been both tolerated and suppressed. There are five main groups formed by defectors from both Fatah, which formerly ruled the strip, and Hamas, which is regarded as too moderate by radicals. They have burned or trashed internet cafes, hair salons, and restaurants and are blamed for the murder of a Christian book seller.
They shot at the convoy of the former head of operations of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza, John Ging, and set fire to UNRWA summer camps for children. Ging, who left UNRWA this year, was a higher profile hero figure in Gaza than Arrigoni. Ging was constantly giving satellite television interviews chas-tising Israel for its cruel treatment of the Palestinians and for its disporportionate use of force.
Arrigoni was the third ISM activist to die in Gaza, the first allegedly slain by Palestinians. US citizen Rachel Corrie was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer when she tried to block it from demolishing Palestinian homes and Briton Tom Hurndall was trying to protect Palestinian children when he was shot by an Israeli soldier.
Arrigoni’s murder occurred only ten days after the fatal shooting by a masked man in the West Bank Jenin refugee camp of Juliano Mer-Khamis, director of the city’s Freedom Theatre. Film-maker and actor Mer-Khamis – son of a leftist Israeli Jewish woman and a Christian Palestinian – sought to use drama to raise the hopes and expectations of deprived Palestinian children and to promote ties between well-meaning Israelis and Palestinians.
The question that must be asked about the assassination of Arrigoni is: cui bono? Who benefits? Not the Salafis. Hammas is certain to strike them with an iron fist. Not Hammas. It has been exposed as having failed to provide security in the strip although Arrigoni’s kidnapping is the first since Hamas took power nearly four years ago. Not Gazans who count on the support given by ISM “internationals” who interpose between Israeli forces and threatened fishermen and farmers and report to the excluded outside world what is taking place in the strip.
Foreign activists, who had felt safe among welcoming Palestinians, may now have doubts about their security when they go about their work.
Israel, however, can claim that Salafis connected to Al Qaeda – the current bogey-movement of the Western world – are asserting themselves in Gaza and, consequently, the siege and blockade must remain. Israel can also contend that the ostracism of Hamas, which has, allegedly, permitted the Salafis to prosper, must continue. Cui bono can also be asked about the murder of MerKhamiss, but that is another story.
Source: Gulf Today