It’s a beautiful sunny day and the silvery reflection of the sea light up a dozen small boats ready to take off. A few shekels provide families looking for entertainment a short tour around the waters of the port of Gaza City. In the back, fishermen organize the nets and the wooden crates with fish. Not far away, lying on benches, a few guys are taking advantage of the spring warmth to snooze beside the sea. It is a beautiful, yet bitter day. The sea of Gaza means Vittorio Arrigoni. Vik had climbed so many times into some of these boats in an attempt to protect with these fishermen with his presence — the fishermen had to come to terms every day with the limits imposed by the Israeli navy off the coast of Gaza.
Vittorio had met Samah instead, a young activist, in the countryside near the border barriers with Israel. “I had noticed his presence during an initiative in Shujayea in support of the peasants who could not go to their fields within the firing range the Israeli soldiers,” he recalls. “At the beginning, I was very cautious in his presence. Then, at one point, the soldiers started shooting and he made a leap forward to protect me. At that moment I realized that this stranger, Vittorio, cared more for the life of Palestinians than his.”
Five years ago, on the night between April 14 and 15, a gang of murderers, who proclaimed themselves as a “Salafist cell” escaping from the Tawhid wal Jihad group killed Vittorio Arrigoni, tearing him from the people of Gaza, from his family, from Palestinian friends and many Italians who followed him on social media and in il manifesto. The reasons for which the Italian activist and reporter was abducted and brutally killed were clarified only partially in the process. Two of his killers, Abdel Rahman Breizat and Bilal Omari, were also killed a few days after the murder in a firefight with Hamas police. A third tormentor, Mahmud al Salfiti, a few months ago, taking advantage of a permission by the prison authorities, fled from Gaza to go to die in Syria, apparently among the ranks of the Caliphate. Khader Jram, sentenced for first degree murder to 10 years, which was dropped to five years after the appeal, was released from prison but nothing is known about him, the family refuses any contact with journalists. The only one left in prison is Tamer Hasasnah, the fifth component of the Salafist cell. But no one can say for sure because the Gaza authorities we reached did not answer to our questions.
“Victor had a special relationship with the boys in Gaza,” Samah recalls, “in particular those of the GYBO (Gaza Youth Breaks Out) group that six years ago denounced not only the Israeli siege, but the division brought forward by the main political parties (Hamas and Fatah) against the desire for unity of all Palestinians. He listened to them, discussed with them and often reported the content of those speeches in the network to make them known to the Italians.” Vittorio, adds the Palestinian woman, “was able to talk about all aspects of life of Gaza, in addition to denouncing the crimes committed by Israel.” Many also recall Vik for his simplicity, the ability to feel at ease with everyone, everywhere. “He loved to joke, it was pleasant to be in his company. From this point of view he was unbeatable, especially when we watched together the football games on TV. He did it on purpose, always cheering for the other team just to make fun,” remembers Samah, who then, silent with a blank stare, smiles a little, perhaps thinking back of her Italian friend.
The characteristic of Vik that Khalil Shahin, deputy director of the Palestinian Human Rights Center and one of Victor’s closest friends, remembers the most is his will to live together with the Palestinians, to live the reality of Gaza. “I appreciated his simplicity, the desire to know the common people, to hear their stories, to know about their lives. He had become an integral part of some farm families here in Gaza,” he says. “I also miss the activist, political Vittorio, writer, blogger,” continues Shahin. “Last night, rereading his book “Stay Human,” I thought about the Israeli offensive suffered by Gaza over the past eight years and noticed a difference regarding the communication about the first (Cast Lead, 2008) told so well by Vittorio, even on your newspaper, and the other two (Defense Column 2012 and Protective Margin, 2014) without him. He was unmatched in his ability to capture the most real aspects of life of civilians under attack. He knew how to write.” Vittorio, Shahin continues, “has been a source of inspiration for many foreign activists, not only Italian, who have come here with the intent to at least continue part his work. His way of telling Gaza, his consistency in reporting events, have been a model for many, foreigners and Palestinians.”
Today the fifth anniversary of Vik’s assassination will be remembered in Gaza with several initiatives. From 10 to 12, fishermen, students, women’s committees, many Palestinians and some Italians will gather at Mina Sayadeen, the marina, for the memorials organized by the “Vittorio Arrigoni” Italian Cultural Center of Gaza City. And an online connection will be set to Reno (Bologna). In the afternoon, at the Meshal Cultural Center, the screening of a documentary about Victor is scheduled, as well as dances and folk songs. “There will be so many Palestinian children,” announces Meri Calvelli, a contributor and head of the Italian Cultural Center, “confirming that the figure of Vittorio, his humanity and his commitment, remain etched in the collective memory of Gaza. Because Vik was Gaza.”
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