Less than two weeks after losing another friend and comrade, Juliano Mer-Khamis, I now have to mourn and remember my fellow Free Gaza shipmate Vittorio (Vik) Arrigoni, who was brutally murdered last night by religious extremists in Gaza (and who actually resembled Juliano, physically, in his buoyant personality and in his insistence on “being there” when the oppressed needed him).
Vik was truly a person greater than life. He was so filled with energy, a mixture of joy, camaraderie and impatience with the confines of boats and prisons like Gaza, that he would suddenly lift you into the air, or wrestle with you – he was a big, strong, handsome guy, ebullient and smiling even in the most oppressive and dangerous situations – as if to tell you: Yalla! These Israel naval ships shooting at us and the Palestinian fisherman cannot prevail over our solidarity, outrage and the justice of our cause! (Vik was wounded in one of those confrontations). He would come up behind you and say: The Occupation will fall just like this! (and he would wrestle you to the ground, laughing and playing with you as he did).
Vik, who like me received Palestinian citizenship and a passport when we broke the siege of Gaza and sailed into Gaza port in August, 2008, was a peace-maker exemplar. Though having a family in Italy, he cast his lot with the Palestinians (with his whole heart, as was his wont. On his facebook page is written: “lives in Gaza”). He was especially known for accompanying the fishermen as they tried to ply their trade despite almost daily shootings at them from the Israeli navy, who confined them to the fished-out, sewage-filled waters near the Gaza coast. At least eighteen fishermen have been killed in the past decade, about 200 injured, many boats wrecked and much equipment ruined. But he was intimately involved wherever he was needed in Gaza, among the farmers as well as traumatized children, in times of distress – his book, Gaza: Stay Human, documents his experiences among the people during Israel’s three-week attack in 2008-09 – and simply being with the people in their coffee shops and homes.
When it was learned he was kidnapped, hundreds of appeals rose spontaneously not only from the international peace community but especially from a distraught Palestinian population in Gaza. A memorial service will be held today in Gaza City and other parts of the Occupied Territories.
Vik worked in the West Bank as well as Gaza, and was jailed three times before being expelled by Israel. But his peace work did not take the form of activism alone. Vik was a master of communication – physical, verbal, written (his blog, Guerrilla Radio, was one of the most popular in Italy) – and he mixed personal experiences, reportage and analysis effortlessly.
Vik was what we call a “witness”: someone who put himself physically with the oppressed and shared with them their triumphs, tragedies, sufferings and hopes. Yet he was one who through his actions tried to affect genuine change. His last message on my Facebook page was: “No-fly zone over Palestine.” He, like Juliano, Rachel, Tom and so many other internationals who have sacrificed themselves for peace and justice in Palestine and the world over, leave a huge hole in our hearts, our lives and in the struggle.
I’ll miss you, man. But every time I feel tired or discouraged, I’ll feel you lifting me up over your head and, with your huge smile and laughter, threatening to throw me overboard if I even hesitate in throwing myself into the fight. You were and are the earth-force of the struggle against injustice. You will always hold us up and inspire us. Like the Palestinian fishermen you loved so much, we and all others fighting for the fundamentals of life throughout the world commit ourselves to seeing your vision through.
15 April 2011