The call came from a friend with the International Solidarity Movement, the Palestinian-led organization dedicated to peacefully resisting Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Vittorio Arrigoni was an ISM activist.
I didn’t know the beloved man his friends called Vik. In fact, I hadn’t heard of him until he was kidnapped in Gaza on April 14. But his life, as has been celebrated by his friends in the past 72 hours, has made him familiar to me.
His death was wrenching, is wrenching, because the pain continues. Against the backdrop of the brutality of Israel’s occupation, Vittorio’s murder leaves a sickening rock in the pit of my stomach. Another act of ruthless violence perpetrated against people who are peacefully resisting the illegal policies of a racist state that will not rest until every Palestinian man, woman and child has been dispossessed of what is rightfully theirs.
But I’m not crying inside just for this courageous Italian who gave his life for truth and justice. I have not been able to shake the anguish I heard from those who knew and worked with Vittorio – especially the youth in Gaza. Thursday night, sitting in that Rogers Park coffee house after I hung up with my friend, I obsessively followed acquaintances on Twitter and Facebook, exchanging condolences, shock and despair in 140 characters or less. It is amazing how intensely raw grief can be expressed in those short bursts.
Shortly after his body was positively identified and news reports suggested an ultra-conservative, extremist Muslim sect tortured and killed the activist, their grief turned to anguish. How could it be that this man who loved Palestinians so intensely had died at the hands of those very same Palestinians? It was this nagging question, I think, that left some bewildered and overwhelmed.
And even when legitimate questions arose that suggested Israel may have played a role in this murder, an almost imperceptible, albeit very real, fear had been present in the posts and messages.
One friend said, “I wish I could turn off the part of the brain that deals with this news.” He continued, “I hope this doesn’t hurt the cause and the international effort to break the siege.”
And, therein, laid the crux of the tragedy: Would this murder turn away those of us who work for the cause of Palestine?
For me, personally, that’s a question with a rock-solid answer: Never.
I know without a doubt that a true Palestinian would never perpetrate such a crime. If the act was committed by religious fanatics, they have lost both in this world and in the Hereafter. If the act were masterminded by Israel, which has been trying desperately to thwart the next international siege-breaking flotilla that is due to set sail in May, its tactics have only backfired.
What Israel still doesn’t seem to be able to comprehend is the strength and power of truth and justice and how brightly it burns within Palestinians and those of us who support them. Israel will not stamp out this cause by its diplomatic machinations or its militaristic blood-letting.
Just ask Agidea Prata. Agidea is Vittorio’s mother, and on Saturday she announced she is joining the Free Gaza flotilla in May. Imagine. A mother, whose son suffered a tortuous death, has not turned her back on Palestine. She has not allowed Vittorio’s banner to fall. She has taken it up and will bring her son’s legacy back to the people of Gaza.
This is what Israel never counts on and can never understand. And this is the hope that will rise above the despair. And this is why, in the end, Palestine will be free.