Late Thursday evening (April 14), Twitter and Facebook pages were suddenly filled with news of the Italian human rights activist, Vittorio Utopia Arrigoni, being kidnapped by a 'Salafi' Palestinian group. He was later found dead in an apartment in Gaza City.
Vittorio, a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), had been living and documenting life in Gaza for several years and was one of the few human rights activists who remained within the Strip during Israel's Operation Cast Lead. He was part of the Free Gaza movement that broke the illegal siege in 2008.
Many within the Palestinian movement have been following his video diaries and journalism for years now. He has documented the daily struggles of the Palestinians, monitored human rights violations and abuses perpetrated by Israel, as well as covering the subsequent Israeli war on Gaza. He authored "Gaza: Stay Human" in 2008, giving eye-witness accounts of Israeli war crimes. His work in Palestine has spanned almost a decade, explaining the realities of life under Israeli occupation to his Italian readership.
When the first reports emerged of an Italian human rights activist being abducted a group claiming to be Palestinian Salafi Jihadis claimed responsibility. They announced their disgruntlement with the way the Palestinian government in Gaza had been cracking down on their members over the past few years. In a video, the group gave Hamas 30 hours to release their members in return for Arrigoni's release. Social networking sites, Facebook and Twitter were immediately flooded by concerned friends, family members and fellow activists, calling for his immediate release. Early Friday morning, reports began to emerge of a body being found hanged in an apartment in Gaza city.
The timing of this brutal murder has raised a few eyebrows amongst the movement. Not only have the main Salafi groups, such as The Tawhid and Jihad Salafi groups denied any connection with the murder and this previously unknown group. Human rights activists have pointed out that it seems only too convenient, as international activists are preparing to break the siege of Gaza via another flotilla that this has occurred. Some human rights activists have even suggested this may be a ploy orchestrated by Israel to undermine the ISM and intimidate its volunteers, with the help of Palestinian collaborators who wish to firstly destabilise the Hamas led government and secondly, make it more difficult for internationals to attempt to break the siege through flotillas or aid convoys.
Hamas official, Mahmoud Zahar denounced the murder at a rally earlier on Friday, suggesting it could not have taken place "without arrangements between all the parties concerned to keep the blockade imposed on Gaza". Meanwhile, Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, described the murder as "serious and shameful" adding, "what this group has perpetrated does not reflect the culture or customs of the Palestinian people who are open to [friendship] with all [people]". He suggested the aim of those responsible was to bring chaos to streets of Gaza and to damage the popular solidarity movement with the besieged Gaza Strip.
Since the body was found early on Friday morning, two men have been arrested and security forces continue to look for other accomplices.
No internationals have been kidnapped within the Strip since the BBC journalist Alan Johnston, was kidnapped in 2007. Vittorio Arrigoni is the third ISM activist to be killed in the Gaza Strip; in 2003 Rachel Corrie, an activist from the US was crushed by an Israeli occupation military bulldozer and in 2004 Tom Hundall, a British activist was shot dead by an Israeli occupation soldier.
The next flotilla to Gaza will be called FREEDOM FLOTILLA-STAY HUMAN in commemoration of Arrigoni's legacy as an activist and honorary Palestinian.
MEMO Photographer: Mohammed Asad