Hearing of the murder of Vittorio Arrigoni, a committed peace activist who for the last 10 years campaigned for recognition of Palestinian human rights under Israeli occupation, has left me shaking and crying with rage at the sheer cruelty and stupidity of those who would carry out such an act. According to news reports, Arrigoni was murdered by the Tawheed and Jihad group, which operates in the Gaza Strip in opposition to the Hamas government.
His kidnap and murder came as a terrible shock to all who knew him. Known to his friends as Vik, as a human rights campaigner he was an unstoppable force.
Even after Israel's forces deported him from the West Bank he still took part in a direct action, associated with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), to highlight Israel's deportation of peace activists, taking a flight to Ben Gurion airport in the hope of being allowed to attend a peace conference in Bethlehem - only to be deported after spending Christmas 2005 in detention.
I first met and interviewed Arrigoni while he was preparing for this action. He described to me how, after some years of suffering depression, he undertook volunteer work in Africa and Eastern Europe. He soon found himself in Palestine as part of ISM and felt that he had to do all he could to help bring about equality and human rights for Palestinians living under occupation and to raise awareness outside Palestine of the difficulties and injustices of their lives.
He was aboard the 2008 Free Gaza Movement vessel and was imprisoned in Israel several times. He was in Gaza throughout "Operation Cast Lead", helping medics and reporting what was happening. Arrigoni wrote for the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto and for Peace Reporter and in 2010 he wrote Gaza Stay Human, a book based on what he witnessed and survived during Operation Cast Lead.
Khaleel Shaheen of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza, a friend of Arrigoni, says: "What has happened is a black day in Palestinian history. The horrific murder of our friend Vittorio is totally condemned. We ask the local authorities to bring the criminals to justice as soon as possible. He is in our minds always. He is a hero of Palestine."
Arrigoni's brutal murder comes after the murder of a settler family and the shooting of theatre director Juliano Mer-Khamis last week. Writing as someone who has spent a great deal of time in the West Bank over the years, these events seem alien to the Palestinian culture of resistance I have come to know and respect. Such actions smack of some kind of dirty war, based on motives that have little to do with the ongoing struggle for Palestinian self-determination.
On Friday Arrigoni's friends gathered at the Italian embassy in London with candles and flowers. Demonstrations also took place following the Friday prayer across from the UN headquarters in Gaza. The villages of Bil'in and Al Masara dedicated their weekly Friday demonstrations to Arrigoni; and there were gatherings in Al Manara square in Ramallah and at Al Jundi al Majhull in Gaza City. A mourning tent will open at the fisherman's port Al Mina and in Nablus, in the north of the West Bank, political parties have called for an event in the city centre, condemning Arrigoni's killing and celebrating his work.
Vik took and withstood much violence but stayed so human and loving until the end - dear Vittorio Arrigoni, you are deeply missed.