Geopolitics

Vittorio Arrigoni: The Pro-Palestinian Activist Who Defied Gaza Threats

A portrait of Italian activist and journalist Vittorio Arrigoni who was found dead in the Gaza Strip early on Friday, following his abduction on Thursday. His mother had been expecting him back home.

Francesco Moscatelli

"It was like a hammer to the head. Vittorio had been planning to return to Italy. We only heard an hour ago, one of his friends called to tell us what happened. It seems they kidnapped him around 10 o'clock in the morning. The Foreign Ministry has told us to stay calm, that they are working on it, and that in situations like these you need to keep a low-profile. But then, when you see your son's face like that…"

Talking on Thursday afternoon when there was still hope he would be released, Egidia Berretta, the mother of Vittorio Arrigoni, the Gaza-based, Italian pro-Palestinian activist and blogger was referring to a photograph that had been released, showing him bruised and blindfolded after being kidnapped by Islamic militants. His body was found Friday morning.

On Thursday, the telephone in the family home in this small northern Italian town of Bulciago was ringing off the hook as reporters, friends and supporters of Vittorio called for news. "Tell them to wait a moment. In a minute I'll speak with them too," said Mrs. Beretta, with the trembling voice of someone trying to remain calm. "In Gaza, everyone loves him. He's got this way of winning people over immediately. He went back to Gaza in January 2010 and after having spent a year witnessing all the good and bad things that happen in those places, he wanted to take a break, and to come back home," Mrs. Beretta said. She had always supported her adventurous son.

Was Vittorio Arrigoni irresponsible? An idealist? This 36-year-old activist, with a typical Arabic keffiyeh around his neck and a Che Guevara-style beret, who signed himself off as "Vik Utopia" at the bottom of his Guerilla Radio blog or articles on the Peace Reporter website, was used to ferocious criticism as well as praise.

It all began in the summer of 2008, when Vittorio decided to leave his job at his father's electrical appliances company and evenings spent drinking beer with friends for a more risky enterprise.

He joined a group that included Tony Blair" s sister-in-law, Lauren Booth, and 40 other activists from the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement (ISM), sailing from Greece aboard an old fishing boat to the Gaza Strip in a bid to break Israel's naval blockade of the Palestinian territory. Such an act had not been attempted since 1967.

Since then, Arrigoni lived many adventures. He received the honorary citizenship of Gaza; he was detained by Israel's Navy while he was acting as a human shield aboard of a Palestinian boat; he became a constant source of distress for the Italian consulate in Jerusalem; and he was threatened both by Islamic extremists and Israeli far-right extremists. Put his name into Google and one of the first links to pop up reads "Kill Vittorio Arrigoni" and includes Arrigoni's identikit, complete with his picture and his personal details, in order to identify and kill him.

Vittorio used to shrug off the threats and kept up his work of bearing witness to what was going on in Gaza. "I'm not leaving," he wrote in January 2009, during the Israeli action known as "Operation Cast Lead." "The international press is stuck at the borders. Someone must tell what is really happening. I'm seeing it with my own eyes." He always embraced a Palestinian point of view. "Four workers died last night due to the collapse of a Palestinian tunnel to cross the Rafah border," he wrote on a blog post, just a few days ago. "All the goods necessary to keep alive the Gaza population -- which is being slowly killed by Israel's criminal siege -- arrive via those tunnels."

On April 13, Arrigoni's last blog post was about the former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's arrest. On Thursday, nothing was posted on the blog. "I have really no clue about what might have happened," his mother said, hanging up the telephone and turning on the evening news. The next morning the news was what every mother dreads.

Read the original article in Italian.

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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