Gaza protests murder of Italian activist

Palestinians in Gaza have taken to the streets to show their solidarity with slain activist Vittorio Arrigoni. (Rami Almeghari)

Rami Almeghari The Electronic Intifada

Palestinians in Gaza have reacted to the kidnapping and murder of Vittorio Arrigoni, a prominent Italian solidarity activist who was found dead on 15 April in Gaza City, with profound sadness.

“Those who committed this heinous crime must be brought to justice soon,” Huda Elian, a member of the Palestinian Democratic Union, told The Electronic Intifada as she demonstrated last Friday outside the United Nations offices in Gaza City. “Arrigoni has been a hero in Gaza, a hero who has always put himself into risk at border lines, [on board vessels off of the] besieged Gaza shores and many other occasions or destinations, in defiance of the Israeli occupation. [Vittorio’s] blood is as precious as any Palestinian blood.”

Elian and hundreds of other Palestinians in Gaza, both men and women, expressed their outrage for the atrocious crime that claimed the life the 36-year-old activist. Arrigoni was found dead in an abandoned apartment hours after a video of him blindfolded and apparently beaten had surfaced on the Internet. In the video, the captors threaten to execute Arrigoni unless the Hamas government in Gaza released the little-known group’s imprisoned leader. But Arrigoni’s life was taken before the 30-hour deadline given by his captors had expired.

Mahmoud Mohammad, 24, soberly stood with his arms handcuffed together amongst the crowd on Friday. “I am here today to express solidarity with brother Arrigoni, who has sacrificed his life in solidarity with Gaza. I know Arrigoni and I took pictures with him as well. Arrigoni took part in Gaza demos on several occasions. May God let him rest in peace and discover the perpetrators for the sake of justice,” he said.

Sami Abu Zuhri, spokesperson for the ruling Hamas party, condemned the murder of Arrigoni. “We do condemn, in the strongest terms, the killing of Arrogoni and we have called for severely punishing those who committed this hideous crime,” he told The Electronic Intifada at the protest.

Some of Hamas’ top leaders also participated in the demonstration against the activist’s murder. On the sideline of the protest, Dr. Mahmoud al-Zahar, the former foreign minister of Hamas, told The Electronic Intifada “Such a crime is inconsistent with our religion, customs and traditions, and we are determined to bring to justice those behind it, whatever their background is.”

Asked whether this event would overshadow preparations underway in Europe for more ships to break the siege on Gaza, al-Zahar added “I have no doubt that this event can be used as an argument by the Israeli occupation to deter those wishing to come in solidarity soon, [to say] that Gaza is not a safe place. Nevertheless, we call on those intending to visit Gaza to show further solidarity with the besieged people of the Gaza Strip.”

Gaza’s main religious institution, the Palestinian Association of Islamic Scholars, decried the murder in the strongest terms. During a press conference held on Saturday in Gaza City, some of the association’s leading members said that the killing of Arrigoni is a crime against the teachings of Islam. They cited verses in the Quran, and spoke of examples of the Prophet Mohammad’s tradition that prohibit harming non-combatants and non-Muslims.

A statement by the association read: “Those who killed Arrigoni are considered outlawed and do not necessarily belong to Islam.”

In a tribute to Arrigoni, the Gaza-based transportation minister, Dr. Usama al-Eisawi, spoke in Italian during a joint press conference along with Hamas’ cabinet secretary general, Mohammad Awad, and deputy-foreign minister, Ghazi Hammad. The press conference was held on Monday morning at the cabinet premises.

The minister announced that his government has named a Gaza street after Arrigoni, while Hammad said that investigations into the killing are underway. He added that the government has increased security along Gaza’s boundaries so that the perpetrators cannot flee. The three Hamas officials promised reporters that results of the probe will be made public very soon.

Many other Gaza-based civil society organizations, including human rights and cultural groups, have expressed outrage and condemnation over Arrigoni’s murder. Some of theses institutions have held special gatherings to commemorate the “victim of solidarity,” as Arrigoni has been named by people in the Gaza Strip.

Well-known Salafi groups in the Gaza Strip have also condemned the crime and disassociated themselves from it outright.

Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.