A tragic epilogue
In the midst of earth-shattering developments in Cairo, Giuseppe Acconcia had time to remember the Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni, and speak to Angela Lano about the humanitarian project he supported
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On 14 April, the International Solidarity Movement for Palestine activist Vittorio Arrigoni was kidnapped in Gaza. His body arrived in Egypt on 19 April, on its way to a burial place in Italy, Vittorio's homeland. Vittoria had supported the first freedom flotilla, commemorating the Nakba; the next one was named after his book.
Vittorio was killed by a Salafi organisation named al Tawhid wal Jihad, yet many questions on his death remain unanswered. Who ordered his murder? Why? Where is his computer, with the last of his research on it? A vigil by candlelight for Vittorio was held in Cairo on the arrival of the body. Students of Italian, activists for Palestine and members of the Italian community gathered outside the Italian Embassy in Garden City to remember him.
One 22-year-old engineering student from Mohandesine, Mohammed Salaheddin Nussair, started a Facebook page in Vittorio's name; within hours it had thousands of supporters. "I'm an activist for Palestinian rights," Mohammed explained, "so Vittorio was one of us. Even if I never met him, I knew him trough Twitter and from his blog." Still, Mohammed was amazed at the success of the page. Many submitted proposals on how to remember Vittorio: to write letters and send them to Vittorio's family, for example. "Palestinians are my people," Mohammed added. "I admired Vittorio because he didn't leave Gaza even in the harshest times. He wanted to convey a message of peace. I was shocked by his death."
Likewise Osama Qashoo, an activist of the International Solidarity Movement: "Vittorio is still with me, I have his personal belongings..." Osama has been defending the rights of Palestinians since he met Vittorio, who had comforted him following the death of a close friend. The afternoon of 19 April, a funeral chamber was prepared at the Italian Hospital Umberto I in Abbasseya. The body arrived in Cairo on Monday at 8 pm trough the Rafah border, after a funeral in Gaza City. At 4 pm, the corpse of the young Italian activist was transferred to Cairo Airport; and on Wednesday Vittorio left the Arab world for good.
Vittorio worked with Palestinian fishermen and farmers. In 2010, the Israeli armed forces shot at him while he was defending fishermen's boats that crossed international waters. Vittorio had been supporting Palestinians and their rights since 2008. In 2009 he published a book called Restiamo umani (Stay human). He was also a blogger on Guerrilla Radio, where he talked about human rights violations in Gaza. He had a quarrel with the Italian writer Roberto Saviano because the author of the novel Gomorra is an Israeli supporter. After Vittorio's death many events in his memory were organised in Italian cities. A Jordanian citizen named Abdel Rahman is suspected to be responsible for this brutal murder. On Tuesday the Gaza police tried to arrest two Palestinians; both were killed in the process.
Vittorio Arrigoni supported the first freedom flotilla. This month Freedom Flotilla II will repeat the journey of 2010 towards Palestinian territories. The next trip will be called "Stay human" to honour Vittorio Arrigoni. In the book Live from the Freedom Flotilla (Verso Gaza in diretta dalla Freedom Flotilla, EMI), Angela Lano, the Italian journalist and activist who directs Infopal, a news agency focused on Palestine, described her incredible experience as a crew member. On the same subject, there is an English book: Midnight on the Mavi Marmara, edited by Moustafa Bayoum.
FF1's trip is famous because it involved the death of nine journalists and activists and the injury of dozens others in an attack by Israeli soldiers. The flotilla, comprising eight Turkish and European boats, brought to the people of Gaza Euro 16 millions as well as sanitary supplies, building materials and tools donated by Arab, Islamic and European countries. The humanitarian shipping project was organised by several NGOs: the European Campaign to end the siege on Gaza, the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights, Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), the Free Gaza Movement, the International Committee to end the siege, the Greek and the Swedish ship to Gaza Campaign. Among the journalists and activists coming from over 44 countries, there were also Egyptians.
Angela's book is a diary. May 14: the journey of the ship bearing Rachel Corrie started from the Irish port of Dundalk. May 25: the Sfendoni-8000 (witch is the number of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails) sailed away from Greece, Angela Lano was one of the passengers of this ship. The same day, from Crete, another two boats sailed for Gaza: the Challanger I and II. May 22: the Mavi Marmara set sail from Istanbul. Among the passengers are the former US Ambassador, Edward Peck, and the former member of the US Navy, Joe Meadors, who survived the attack against the American Liberty ship. May 29: all the flotilla boats gathered. May 30: the Israel Navy sought to identify the ships.
During the night of May 31: Israel Navy zodiacs, war boats and military helicopters surrounded the flotilla. Israeli media reported that terrorists were on board. That's when Angela's story began. "We were 75 miles off the coast of Gaza, activists ran around the cockpit, blocking the exits. Israeli soldiers attacked them violently. Some members of the crew were shot and fell on the ground." The Skywinds operation had started.
The ships were forced to leave the coast of Gaza, piloted by the Israeli command towards Israel. An Israeli official told Angela: "You entered our territory illegally, violating the law". She refused to sign a letter admitting her alleged faults, so she was arrested; but Angela was not discouraged, she kept saying: "You are kidnapping me!" She was held in the Beer Sheva Prison in the Negev desert together with Janet Kobren, founder of the Free Palestine Movement, and a French-Moroccan.
Meanwhile, in Italy, news of Skywinds had spread and reached her family. There was no information on the fate of the crew. Angela's family held their breath for news. June 1: after a talk with the Italian Consul in Tel Aviv, Bellelli, Angela signed a letter of deportation. June 2: she arrived at Ben Gurion airport, boarding a plane offered by the Turkish government. All passengers were delayed for hours at the airport strip because Israeli authorities wanted to arrest the president of IHH, Bulent Yildirim. June 3: the plane took off to Istanbul. Angela arrived in Milan where she was finally reunited with her family.
In her book, Angela criticises the Western media's approach to the Israeli-Palestine conflict. The last chapters are dedicated to updated information about the siege of Gaza and the 2009 Report of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, led by Stephen Lendman.
What about the Arab media?
"I'm an Orientalist," Angela told me, "specialising in the Israeli-Palestine conflict. For this reason I'm more conscious of media manipulations. I can't accept misleading news by Western media on Middle East. In 2006 we started the Infopal news agency to offer an objective perspective on the conflict. On the other hand, the Arab and Turkish media's view is airer. And they were the most reliable source of information during the freedom flotilla case".
Her book ends with a poem dedicated to the people in FF1, written by the Palestinian contemporary poet Ibrahim Nasrallah: "Their blood is their love and their anger". But it is of the Vittorio Arrigoni's sacrifice that the words remind us.