Staying Human

The murder of Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni is not only tragic but horrifying. This is a man who left the comfort of his own home in Italy to tirelessly defend the Palestinians in the face of Israel’s occupation. Even after being deported from the West Bank, he determinedly returned on the first Free Gaza boat in 2008, blogged from Gaza and wrote his book “Gaza, Stay Human” on Israel’s Cast Lead operation into the Strip in the winter of 2008-2009. He was, no doubt, a warrior of justice.

It goes without saying that his death was shocking, not only to those who knew and loved him, but to the Palestinians as a whole. Why anyone would ever want to harm a man like Vittorio is beyond comprehension but the awful truth is that someone did harm him in the worst possible way. And this is where the Palestinians, as a people, have more to mourn than just the death of our friend Vittorio.

Those who decided to take the life of this man were, at least by birth, Palestinian. For the rest of us Palestinians, this fact is extremely disturbing. Just like the shooting death of actor and director Juliano Mer-Khamis who was allegedly killed at the hands of a Palestinian from the Jenin refugee camp, Vittorio’s death signals an appalling reality that there are those among us who would do such horrible things.

It is true that Palestinians, including Hamas in Vittorio’s case, strongly condemned the murders, saying they go against our social, cultural and religious values. Palestinians everywhere held candlelit vigils for the two men who both put themselves at risk for the sake of supporting the Palestinians. But the fact that even a fraction of a percent of our people can think that these senseless acts of violence are acceptable is just as unacceptable to the rest of us.

This means, other than our mourning for Vittorio, Juliano and all the nameless Palestinians who have died over the years as a result of senseless violence at the hands of Israel’s occupation, we must search within and find an answer to the question of how such things could happen.

This is the logical reaction of any responsible society. When Timothy McVeigh carried out the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, killing 168 people including several children, average Americans may not have blamed themselves completely for it but they certainly felt some responsibility for allowing such wonton hatred to simmer beneath the surface of their society.

The same goes for Palestinians. We all understand how fundamentally wrong Vittorio’s murder was and how it stung all Palestinians to the bone to have such a horrible crime committed in our midst. But these Salafists, these so-called protectors of a cause that is foreign even to us, do not represent us. We do not identify with them, with their twisted code of conduct or their violent ways of expression.

However, they live in our country among our people, even if they number fewer than the fingers of one hand. And so they should be brought to justice, punished for the terrible crime they committed and made to bear the heaviest of crosses for the innocent life they took.

As for the rest of us, including Hamas in Gaza, we need to ensure that we do not offer a breeding ground for such mindless extremism. We are responsible – all of us – for the moral integrity of our society. We never hope to be associated with cold-hearted killers like those who tortured and killed Vittorio or shot Juliano, even if from afar. On the contrary, we are a people of tremendous pride, integrity and a guided moral compass, qualities any people would be proud of. We have so far, without knowing, followed Vittorio’s example to “Stay Human.” It is time we try our best to keep that example alive.