GAZA, TWO MONTHS AFTER THE ASSASSINATION: Two months with Vittorio Arrigoni
By Michele Giorgio
in Gaza City (from il manifesto, 15 June 2011) www.ilmanifesto.it
translated from Italian by Mary Rizzo
“Children will be playing in these spaces, we have renovated the bathroom and the kitchen will be here,” Saber Zanin moves quickly from one room to another in the “Forsan al Ghad for Youth Association” of Beit Hanoun.
Just a short time before, he led a demonstration of about thirty Western volunteers from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) at the margins of the “buffer zone”, the most fertile agricultural lands of Gaza.
It is in those areas where “for security reasons” the Israeli army does not allow Palestinians to gain access, not even those who own property there. It is a measure that is accompanied by the fire of automatic weapons against whoever dares to violate that prohibition that has brought starvation to hundreds of families who live by means of family farming. “Vittorio struggled with us. We have had so many marches along the buffer zone together, he was a brother to me,” Saber muses, showing us some photos of Vittorio that had been taken in recent months on his laptop. Today in memory of the Italian activist that was kidnapped and killed two months ago in Gaza, the summer camp “Stay Human, Restiamo Umani” will have its inauguration. “We will welcome 60 children and teens between 6 and 16 years of age,” Saber explains, “and in addition to them being able to play and have fun, they will also learn about the political and human story of Vittorio. Not only that, they will learn principles of humanitarian rights, preparing them to follow in the footsteps of our fallen brother.” Sponsoring the summer camp are a dozen or so Italian NGOs that work in the Gaza Strip. Saber has the possibility of making a dream come true. “Vittorio protected Palestinian children, he would be happy that this initiative is being dedicated to him.”
Two months without Vik. On the contrary, two months always with Vik because in Gaza, friends and comrades haven’t forgotten him. His words are like stones, his image is part of the collective memory. Daniela Riva, a volunteer in the GVC of Bologna spent the last several years in the Strip, working on development projects. Vittorio was a close friend of hers. “When I used to break down in front of whoever could not understand my involvement with Gaza,” Daniela says, “Vik would repeat to me that I had to answer that being involved in a struggle for justice and freedom means being alive, is there anything worth living or dying for that has more value than that?… when months ago (the shootings from Israeli soldiers) a farmer was killed, one who I’d only met with a few minutes prior, Vittorio told me to try hard to cry no tears at that funeral, but to keep my head held high. One does not cry for martyrs. I did it. I tried to do the same at his funeral too, but the tears fell despite my efforts…”
Memories, intense moments of emotion for a young man whose life was taken at only 36 years of age, who with honesty and constancy, through the Internet, had for years sent out daily information on Gaza under the Israeli siege. Not omitting the economic or social aspects of the situation. News that yesterday had once more been confirmed. An UNRWA report records that in the second half of 2010 the unemployment rate of Gaza is at 45.2%, one of the world’s highest. On the other hand, the level of salaries keeps sinking. “This is an alarming trend,” the spokesman of the UNRWA Chris Gunness says. “It is difficult to understand the logic of a policy that was carefully planned (by Israel, author’s note) to deliberately impoverish and that has condemned hundreds of thousands of persons to a life of abject misery. If the purpose of the policy of the closure of Gaza was to weaken Hamas,” he continues, “these numbers show that they have failed, while at the same time there has been massive success in punishing whoever can be counted among the poorest of the poor in the Middle East.”
Vittorio’s parents, his sister, his friends, everyone who knew him personally or who had met him through Internet, those who had listened intently while he spoke in tours throughout Italy, all of them are impatiently waiting to know the truth about his assassination. That moment could be near. Authoritative sources of the Ministry of Justice and of the Security Services of the Hamas government – who have asked to remain anonymous – have told il manifesto that the Military Court will issue an official communiqué at the end of June on the course of the investigations and it will bring to trial at least two persons involved in various levels in the kidnapping and assassination of Vittorio. One of these is Mahmoud al Salfiti, the only survivor of the three members of the self-proclaimed Salafite cell (who had left the Tawhid wal Jihad group) responsible for the kidnapping. The other two, the Jordanian Abdel Rahman Breizat and Bilal Omari were killed in the armed clash at Nuseriat with a special forces team of Hamas several days after the having killed the Italian activist.
Sources of the Ministry of Justice have explained that the investigations that had closed in mid-May had been reopened following another two failed kidnap attempts of two young American citizens: a cooperation worker (long-time resident in the Strip) and an activist of the ISM (the latter near the “Gallery”, the coffeehouse that Vittorio frequented along with various local and international activists). The mind behind the kidnapping was the Jordanian Breizat, who had prepared the plan about a month and a half earlier, using the help of various inhabitants of Gaza who were close to Vittorio, most of them unaware of his intentions. At the start, the sources add, the plan didn’t include the killing of the Italian. However, when the kidnappers were aware that they would have been discovered in a matter of hours, they decided to make a run for it and cover their tracks. It was Breizat who had killed Vittorio, because he was convinced that by leaving the kidnapped man alive they would have been discovered immediately (Vik personally knew at least two of the kidnappers, in particular Bilal Omari, who went to the same gym he frequented in Gaza City).
For the confirmation of this information, there is nothing to do but await the start of the trial. In that moment the acts can be consulted and we can finally know the declarations made during the interrogations of the accused parties. In the meantime, mystery reigns over the eight objects belonging to Vittorio that disappeared after the kidnapping, in particular, his laptop. The Hamas authorities have referred in an earlier moment that they had been recovered and were being held at the central command of the Police. Now, they deny this.