Gaza in shock
The brutal murder of an Italian activist in Gaza has rocked the Palestinian public, and the Gaza government, writes Saleh Al-Naami
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During his 50 years, death has separated Ismail Haniyeh from many of his comrades, colleagues and acquaintances, usually by the bullets of occupation forces. But those close to him say they have never seen him as sombre and stunned as when he heard the news about the kidnapping and murder of Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni, better known as Vik. Vik was a frequent guest in the office of the Palestinian prime minister and he visited him several times at his home in Al-Shate Refugee Camp, west of Gaza City. The photo printed by news agencies showing Haniyeh and Arrigoni embracing demonstrated how close the two men were.
Sources close to Haniyeh told Al-Ahram Weekly that he broke down and wept while speaking on the phone with Arrigoni's mother, Egidia Beretta, and had to hang up and call her back. Beretta, who is the mayor of Bulciago, north of Milan, promised to visit the Gaza Strip to meet the people whom her son loved so much. In an interview with Yediot Aharonot newspaper, Beretta said that her son talked extensively about the Gaza Strip and its people and that his death has made many peace activists in Italy keen on visiting Gaza as part of Freedom Flotilla II.
The government in Gaza is trying by all means to demonstrate that it is doing its utmost to arrest the perpetrators and give them a "fair" trial, not only because it wants to send a strong message abroad that the crime does not reflect the conduct or customs of the Palestinian people, but also because of intense pressure by Palestinian public opinion on Haniyeh's government to exert extensive effort to arrest the killers and put them on trial.
In most of the mosques across Gaza, the sermons of the imams during Friday prayer demanded capital punishment for anyone proven to be connected to the heinous crime. One preacher in Gaza City described the murder as "first and foremost a crime against Islam and a subversive attempt to sabotage its image".
While all Palestinians were appalled by the crime, members of Islamist movements were especially keen on declaring their condemnation of the incident. Students at the Islamic University created Facebook pages calling on the Palestinians to strip legitimacy from any group that embraces the "destructive" ideas of the group that carried out the kidnapping and killing. Meanwhile, the government in Gaza renamed one of the main streets in Gaza City "Victor", and several Palestinians named their newborn children Victor.
The foreign minister in Haniyeh's government, Mohamed Awad, told foreign journalists in the Gaza Strip that the government considers Arrigoni a martyr of the Palestinian people, and that the Gaza government was reassured by all the activists abroad that they will still travel to Gaza by sea on schedule. The next sea convoy that will come to breach the siege on Gaza is named after the book penned by Arrigoni: Stay Human. Awad reassured foreign journalists about the security situation in Gaza, saying: "This was a fluke incident, but security is stable, and we are keen on keeping you safe under the most dire circumstances and to safeguard your work here."
There is consensus among writers, journalists and politicians, as well as the public, that the perpetrators of the Arrigoni murder are either direct Israeli agents or are being handled indirectly by Israeli intelligence. They assert that the goal of killing Arrigoni is to undermine Freedom Flotilla II to Gaza.
A group of Arrigoni's friends refused to transport his body from Gaza to Italy via the border crossing at Eretz, which is controlled by the Israeli occupation army. As soon as the group arrived in Gaza, Haniyeh received them in his office and took part in Arrigoni's funeral in Gaza.
A Palestinian security source told the Weekly that the incident demonstrated that officers of the Israeli internal intelligence agency Shin Bet were able to recruit Palestinian youth via the Internet by posing as members of radical Islamist groups. These witless youth were receptive to these officers and were coerced into committing acts that sabotage security and spread internal strife, which serves Israeli interests.
Even the security agencies of the Palestinian Authority (PA) headed by President Mahmoud Abbas discovered in 2002 -- before internal Palestinian fractures -- that there were Islamist cells being manipulated by Shin Bet officers. Security agencies in Gaza are exerting intense efforts to locate the four suspected killers by arresting tens of their associates. After authorities shut down the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt to prevent the murderers from fleeing, the Palestinian Ministry of Interior published photos of the main suspects on its website.
"The police will pay a reward and bonus to all the officers and individuals who aid the arrest of Victor's killers," declared Major Ayman Al-Batniji, spokesman for the Palestinian police. Al-Batniji explained that the police decided on the unprecedented move of offering a monetary reward in order to hasten the capture of the kidnappers and those responsible for Arrigoni's death after he was kidnapped.
Many observers in Gaza believe that targeting Arrigoni, a European national, for such brutal killing was not random, because Israel wants those arriving in the next Freedom Flotilla to be mostly nationals of Islamic countries, in order for its propaganda machine to easily malign them. This was true about Turkish activists against whom Israel launched a propaganda campaign, attempting to link them with "terrorist organisations".
In this way, Tel Aviv is trying to legitimise its use of force when occupation forces intercept Freedom Flotilla vessels. Israel was quick to use Arrigoni's death as proof that Gaza is unsafe for foreign solidarity activists, of whom hundreds have expressed their desire to join Freedom Flotilla II.
The murder came also on the heels of Israel's recent attack on Gaza, which many say is prelude to a more extensive campaign of aggression on Gaza. They fear that Israel will use the murder as a pretext to garner international support for its next attack, by claiming that Palestinians are targeting European nationals who come in solidarity with them, so they don't deserve any sympathy when Israel supposedly defends itself in response to rocket attacks by Palestinians against Jewish settlements.
At the same time, observers in Gaza assert that the incident embarrasses the movement of the masses in the Arab world and officials, especially in Egypt, who for the first time have officially objected to Israel's recent military campaign. "This incident is a stab in the back for the Arab people who, in Egypt, condemned Israel and demanded that the Israeli embassy in Cairo be shut down in protest against the aggression," asserted some Palestinians.
No doubt, the kidnap and murder of the Italian activist indicates serious Palestinian security deficiencies. If Israel is behind the crime, how is it that Gaza has become fertile ground for such dangerous plots that critically undermine supreme Palestinian national interests? The government in Gaza must judge itself harshly, investigate its deficiencies and punish those responsible for them, beginning at the top of the security pyramid down to the lowest ranking member who is found negligent.
The incident is a test of leadership for Ismail Haniyeh, because in the end he is responsible for public safety in Gaza. It is a test he must not fail
The link: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2011/1044/re6.htm.