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Assassinating Hope – Another Crime

Ten days after the assassination of Israeli-Arab actor-director and pro-Palestinian political activist Juliano Mer-Khamis on April 4, 2011 in the West Bank, another horrendous crime was perpetrated by Islamist terrorists, this time in the Gaza Strip.

Vittorio Arrigoni, an Italian pro-Palestinian activist for the radical leftist group the International Solidarity Movement, was kidnapped in the Gaza Strip by the Tawhid and Jihad (“Monotheism and Holy War”) group, which demanded that Hamas free its leader, Sheikh Abu Walid-al-Maqdasi and two other members arrested in early March. The kidnappers threatened to kill him unless their demands were not fulfilled, but the hanged body of Arrigoni was discovered hours short of the end of the ultimatum.

Arrigoni arrived in Gaza on August 23, 2009 on a boat of the Free Gaza Movement with about 40 activists from 17 different countries. “We arrived and broke a siege lasting since 1967. I remember this day as one of the happiest in my life,” he said in an interview. Arrigoni said that there are people who are willing to devote their lives to support the people in Gaza despite their governments’ complaisance and “cooperation with the Zionist-Israeli regime.” (Ynet, April 15, 2011).

Hamas officials said they had arrested two suspects and condemned “the heinous crime that does not reflect our values, our religion or our custom and tradition.” In a statement, the Hamas Interior Ministry said the man was killed “in an awful way.”

Western media raised questions about Hamas’ control over Gaza and how smaller, more radical groups, some with alleged ties to Al Qaeda, are challenging the rule of Hamas.

It should be noted however, as mentioned in my El Imparcial op-ed “Assassinating Hope,” that the radicalization process in the Gaza Strip accelerated after the Hamas violent takeover in June 2007. Under Hamas rule several Salafi groups proliferated in Gaza and opened an all-out war against internet coffee shops, shops that sell women lingerie, but also against Palestinian Christians. They attacked the YMCA library, the Rahabat Al Wardia School run by nuns, and the Beit Lahiya UN School. They also fired rockets at Israel, sometimes in coordination and other times against the will of the Hamas government. These groups are not present in the West Bank, controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

The two assassinations show how naïve are some radical leftist groups and individuals in accepting to cooperate with Islamist movements and groups. For the record, the revolutionary Islamic Party in Iran has assassinated and in the best case imprisoned its moderate Islamists, liberal and communist partners and imposed a repressive theocratic regime.

Assassinating Hope

By Ely Karmon

This article was published as op-ed in the Spanish digital daily El Imparcial on April 13, 2011.

The present military escalation in the conflict between Israel and the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip is not the most dangerous development in the prolonged Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On April 4, 2011, the Israeli-Arab actor-director and pro-Palestinian political activist Juliano Mer-Khamis was shot dead by a hooded assassin outside The Freedom Theatre, which he founded in a refugee camp in the West Bank city of Jenin. The theatre provides children and youth of the refugee camp with opportunities to develop creative skills, self-knowledge and confidence as a model for social change. Juliano, son of a Jewish mother and a Christian-Palestinian father, both communists, was a unique cultural and activist figure.

He opened the Freedom Theater in 2006 in partnership with UNESCO. UNESCO head, Irina Bokova, condemned the assassination and described Mer-Khamis as “a social committed artist” and “an ardent defender of peaceful co-existence.”

The theater had faced threats before; it was torched twice in the past, and the threats persisted despite the support it received from former Fatah terrorist militants.

Juliano preached freedom not only from Israel, but also from Muslim tradition. Many young girls, who rebel against the subservient role of women in the Palestinian society, were ardent actresses. He died for the cause of “women’s liberation” … which goes much beyond “Palestine liberation,” as one of his mourners said.

In a “scenario” prophesized by Juliano a year ago in a documentary movie, he said he will finish by a bullet shot in his head by a young Islamist Palestinian angry of him corrupting the “Islamic youth” and his presence in the Jenin refugee camp with his blonde Finnish wife! A suspected Hamas assassin was arrested by the Palestinian security forces.

After the Hamas violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 a boost of Islamization and radicalization process began.

School girls are instructed to wear head covers and full-length robes otherwise they risk to be suspended. The High Judicial Council instructs female lawyers to come to court wearing Islamic dress. On Hamas Television Channel all female announcers wear veils. Hamas forbids mixed gender swimming at sea and mixed gender ceremonies.

Under Hamas rule several Salafi groups proliferated in Gaza and opened an all-out war against internet coffee shops, shops that sell women lingerie, but also against Palestinian Christians. They attacked the YMCA library, the Rahabat Al Wardia School run by nuns, and the Beit Lahiya UN School.

The uprisings in the Arab world have raised the hope for a democratization process and a brighter future for the beleaguered Arab masses, after decades of autocratic rule.

But at the same time, the specter of organized Islamist movements taking control of Egypt and Tunisia, Syria or Libya and imposing a strict Islamist way of life à-la-Iran or Taliban, poses a great question mark on the revolutionary outcomes of the uprisings.

In Tunisia, the assassination of a priest, anti-Semitic incidents, a series of Islamist attacks against prostitution houses have shaken the public. Several weeks ago some 15,000 people demonstrated against Tunisia’s Islamist movement, calling for religious tolerance.

In Egypt, Sheik Mohamed Hussein Yacoub, a prominent Cairo cleric, generated outrage by claiming the country belongs “to the observant” and “those who object could emigrate to North America.“ Salafi activists in Upper Egypt cut a teacher’s ear accusing him of renting an apartment to prostitutes. In the oasis of Fayoum Salafists destroyed places selling beer. Dozens of Salafis staged a protest in Cairo, accusing the church of abducting Camilla Shehata, a Coptic priest’s wife who some believe converted to Islam and is being held against her will. Elsewhere in Egypt, Coptic Christians evacuated 340 female students from their university dorms to church-affiliated sanctuaries over concerns for their safety.

Jordanian Salafists were taking advantage of the atmosphere of openness witnessed these days to demand Islamic law be imposed on the state and called for jihad as the “way to liberate Muslim lands from autocrats.”

The emblematic assassination of a renowned, ardent, secular pro-Palestinian artist bodes badly for the future of the Palestinian society, for the prospects of a peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians and if exemplary for the trends in the “new” Arab world, for the future of this region and its relation with the outside world.