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2011-04-15

"A Beautiful Soul, a Big Heart": Italian Peace Activist Vittorio Arrigoni Slain by Militant Captors in Gaza Strip

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The body of 36-year-old Italian peace activist Vittorio Arrigoni was found in Gaza shortly after his captors posted video of him blindfolded and bloodied. They had vowed to execute him unless their group’s leader was freed from custody by Gaza’s Hamas-led government. Arrigoni was a member of the International Solidarity Movement, a Palestinian-led movement that uses nonviolent and direct action methods to oppose the Israeli occupation. He had lived in Gaza since 2008 after arriving on a boat carrying humanitarian aid. We speak to Huwaida Arraf, a friend of Vittorio’s and co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: An Italian peace activist has been slain in the Gaza Strip following his abduction by Palestinian militants. The body of 36-year-old Vittorio Arrigoni was found shortly after his captors posted video of him blindfolded and bloodied. They had vowed to execute him unless their group’s leader was freed from custody by Gaza’s Hamas-led government.

Arrigoni was a member of the International Solidarity Movement, a Palestinian-led movement that uses nonviolence, direct action methods, to oppose the Israeli occupation. He had lived in Gaza since 2008, after arriving on a boat carrying humanitarian aid. He spoke to the news agency Reuters in 2008, soon after his arrival.

VITTORIO ARRIGONI: So happy to see all these people, because we are here to try to help these people, but especially because we love you. We love Palestine. And we want that you have the same human rights that all the other people of the world they have, the same rights that Israel, and they have the same rights the Italians have.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Vittorio Arrigoni speaking in 2008. In 2009, he wrote the book Gaza: Stay Human, about Israel’s 22-day assault on Gaza.

Joining us now is Huwaida Arraf, a friend of Vittorio’s, co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement, speaking to us from Bethlehem.

Huwaida, tell us what happened, what you understand happened to Vittorio.

HUWAIDA ARRAF: We are still piecing together the information. It was late yesterday when we discovered that Vittorio was indeed being held captive. It was — we had suspected that something was wrong, because we hadn’t heard from him in a while. And then the video popped up on the internet, showing him bound and blindfolded, with his face a little bit swollen and bloodied.

Despite that — we started working right away, talking to everyone we knew, putting out an appeal to secure his release, and making sure that whoever had him knew what a tireless advocate for Palestinian rights Vittorio was. But, you know, even the horror of seeing that video and knowing that he was being held in that state, we didn’t think — it didn’t really cross our mind that they could harm him. He is such a beautiful soul. Anyone coming into contact with him would know just how committed he was. And I was sure that just if his captors would talk to him, they would see that, you know, [inaudible].

And in the middle of the night, when [inaudible] put out that his body was found, and for a while we didn’t know. We were hoping it was not true, because none of us had seen it yet. Then within, you know, less than an hour, the ISM activist that we had down in Gaza went over to the hospital, and they positively identified his body.

But why [inaudible] took him and why — because lots of people are now — at first said it was a Salafi group, and what was written on the internet in this hostage video made it seem that way. And now various groups are denying. The various Salafi groups in Gaza are having a meeting today to actually come out with a statement condemning this kind of action. And there’s a lot of speculation.

All I know and all I could say is that Vittorio has one of the most beautiful souls, big heart, of anybody I’ve ever had the honor of meeting. And his killing is truly a loss for — you know, not just for those of us who knew him, but for all of Palestine.

AMY GOODMAN: The Salafi leader Iyad Ash-Shami said Friday Salafi groups were not involved in the murder of Vittorio. That’s the statement. And we will continue to follow this. Huwaida, we’re so sorry, and our condolences to you and your organization.

HUWAIDA ARRAF: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Huwaida Arraf, speaking to us from Bethlehem, founder of the International Solidarity Movement and chairperson of the Free Gaza Movement.

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