On April 15, 2011, Italian journalist and activist Vittorio Arrigoni was
kidnapped and killed in the Gaza strip. According to a video released by
his kidnappers, they belonged to a Salafi group, which Hamas identified
included a former Hamas policeman. While the mainstream media
portrayed the killing as an act of an extremist group identifying with Al
Qaeda, many are saying the group, as other Salafi groups operating in
Gaza represents a growing force from inside Hamas itself. Arrigoni’s
brutal killing was commemorated in the West Bank, in Gaza, and in Israel,
in conjunction with his funeral in Italy. The consequences of the incident
however reach furthre than the impact on his family and friends as other
international organizations and NGOs rethink their security measures in
the Gaza strip, sources say.
LIA TARACHANSKY, TRNN: On April 15, Italian journalist and activist Vittorio Arrigoni was murdered in the first fatal kidnapping of an international in the Gaza Strip. He was found hanging in an apartment a 30 minutes’ drive from where he was taken. Sources in Gaza say he was tortured. The death came at a time of escalating violence between Israel and Gaza and will no doubt have an important impact on the ruling Hamas Party and on the work of international activists in the Gaza Strip. During the weekend, Israeli activists held a vigil in the mixed city of Jaffa to honor Arrigoni’s life.
YODFAT GETZ, ISRAELI ACTIVIST: It’s so sad that you can’t even talk about. I came here ’cause I felt like there is less thing to do, go out to streets and say that I had enough of this thing.
TARACHANSKY: Arrigoni volunteered with the International Solidarity Movement, the ISN, whose members accompany farmers and fishermen as they often face aggression from the Israeli army. He was also part of the Free Gaza movement, whose boats and flotillas attempted to breach the siege on Gaza nine times. The next flotilla is scheduled to attempt to breach the siege in mid-May, and in his honor was renamed after the title of his book, Stay Human.
VITORIO ARRIGONI (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The problem of the international co-operation and “in primis” of the UN is that they treat the problem of Gaza as it was a humanitarian catastrophe. We had to come here to stand in front of the snipers, to be on board of the boats as human shields, exactly what the UN should be doing. An international inter-position force so that the international law would be respected.
TARACHANSKY: Many Italian friends and activists attended the vigil and delivered a statement.
EMILIA SORRENTINO, FRIEND OF ARRIGONI: We expect the international community to do everything in its power to see that this tragedy is not being used for the justification of another Israeli aggression on the civilians in the Gaza Strip. We strongly believe now more than ever in the importance of standing beside the people of Gaza and not leaving them alone in their prison.
TARACHANSKY: During his funeral in Italy, Palestinian friends and political leaders attended a memorial service in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
HUWEIDA ARRAF, COFOUNDER, INT’L SOLIDARITY MOVEMENT: I first met him in 2004. He came with the International Solidarity Movement. I can’t talk about it without crying. So we were in villages together in [incompr.] and Buderus. He went to the north to Tulkarem. Every place he went, he was welcomed, and of course Palestinian people are very welcoming, but more than that they clung to him. And he was a big guy, but he used his arms to wrap them around children and sometimes carry many of them at the same time. When he got to Gaza, he decided to stay with others from the International Solidarity Movement so that we can restart our activities there.
ARRAF: It was a criminal act. It doesn’t represent Palestinian society because there was one kidnapping. It’s not something that everywhere you go you’re going to be afraid of being kidnapped. Palestinians came out overwhelmingly condemning this act all throughout Gaza–all the political factions, all the religious actions here. So I don’t expect to see any more of this.
TARACHANSKY: The work of NGOs in Gaza is particularly difficult due to Israel’s blockade on the Strip, ongoing violence, and the policy of many of their funders of non-association with the ruling Hamas Party. The killing of Arrigoni, some Gaza sources say, will make that work even more difficult. And while larger organizations like the ICRC or the UN are able to afford stricter security measures to protect their employees–
UNIDENTIFIED: Please stop shooting. We are unarmed civilians.
TARACHANSKY: –many smaller NGOs do not have this privilege, making their members easier targets. Christopher Finucane runs security workshops with NGOs throughout the world. In 2009, he traveled to Gaza to train organizations operating in the strip.
CHRISTOPHER FINUCANE, DIRECTOR, HUMANITARIAN POLICY: Many of the agencies in Gaza now will be certainly reviewing their plans and procedures and ensuring that they’re making any changes if they have to.
TARACHANSKY: Do you see that poorer organizations therefore become more vulnerable? As the bigger ones sort of go into an insular shutdown for security measures, ones that can’t afford that might actually make their employees more vulnerable to such incidents?
FINUCANE: Yeah. Security management of aid organizations costs money. It costs time and money. And it–certainly, smaller organizations with small budgets are going to be more vulnerable than larger organizations that have more well-established security management practices, simply because they’ve had the resources or the time to develop that.
ARRAF: We haven’t talked about anything necessarily that needs to be done differently. I think our training is complete and we don’t feel that we are in any kind of danger again, at least not from the communities that were living. Of course, being shot at by the Israeli military, that’s another story. But in terms of changing in the aftermath of this kidnapping, we really don’t see a need to do that.
TARACHANSKY: In recent weeks, Israel increased aerial attacks on Gaza, and Israeli tanks briefly invaded through the northern border with the Strip. Gaza militants have also increased rocket attacks on Southern Israel, leading to speculation about the outbreak of another war. In this political environment, many are questioning the motives behind the killing. A video released by the kidnappers claim Arrigoni was killed by a radical Islamist group. Hamas forces identified four suspects, connecting one to a Jordanian salafis group and claiming another to be a former Hamas member. Three of the suspects are dead following a Hamas chase. The party claims they died committing suicide in order to avoid being captured. According to the International Crisis Group, which recently published an expansive report entitled “Radical Islam in Gaza”, many Salafi Jihadis in Gaza are young, low-ranking former members of the military wings of established factions, primarily Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Their aim is to challenge the direction the party’s taken. This internal struggle, however, was almost entirely missed by the mainstream media. One of the few journalists to touch on the rift that may have been the reason behind the kidnapping is The Telegraph‘s Michael Weiss.
MICHAEL WEISS, BLOGGER, THE TELEGRAPH: One of the things that’s very important to emphasize is that, as I say, a lot of these groups were either started or they’re populated by people who were in Hamas. And the al-Qassam Brigade is sort of a force unto itself. I mean, most people, the conventional wisdom would say that, well, Hamas has, really, two different arms. There’s the Ismail Haniyeh arm in Gaza itself, and then there’s the Khalid Mashal sort of–he’s the chief ideologist of Hamas, and he’s based in Damascus. Well, actually, there are three, and the third arm is the al-Qassams Brigade, which is very hardline, very Islamically conservative, and often at odds with what Haniyeh and what you might–I mean, I wouldn’t call them the moderates, but I guess if on a relative scale they are moderate [incompr.] And this is something that the Western media has either forgotten or just chosen not to emphasize in its coverage of Arrigoni. In the last, I think, 18 months, two or three separate incidents have occurred whereby UNRWA, you know, the UN summer camps, have been burnt down or attacked. And when I say, have been attacked– includes things like, you know, tying up the security guard, threatening his life, threatening other UN officials. By the way, UNRWA officials are–the majority of them are also Palestinian. So it’s not just a case of attacking foreigners. It’s attacking Palestinians.
TARACHANSKY: The Ramallah memorial was held in conjunction with Arrigoni’s funeral in Italy and with a service in Gaza. Political leaders, both from the grassroots and various factions, attended to pay their respects and denounce the killing. Renowned Palestinian singer Rim Banna sang one of Arrigoni’s favorite songs.
End of Transcript
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