Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa

MIDEAST: In the Dark Over Murder of Peace Activists

Mel Frykberg

RAMALLAH, Apr 19 2011 (IPS) - Palestinians are reeling from the double-murder of two pro-Palestinian peace activists over the last few weeks, one in the West Bank and one in Gaza, with many believing that Israeli intelligence had a hand in the grisly killings, even if indirectly.

While ubiquitous conspiracy theories regularly circulate in the Mideast, political duplicity and dirty- dealings by intelligence agencies and governments are par for the course in the region. Furthermore, a significant number of conspiracy theories have eventually been backed up by concrete facts.

Israel’s Mossad has a history of dirty tricks in its bag and is known to be one of the more “sophisticated” intelligence agencies.

The organisation is widely believed to be behind the killing of a leading Hamas activist in Dubai last year. Israeli-affiliated organisations were behind the murders of anti-Zionists Lord Moyne in Cairo in 1944 and UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte during the partition of Palestine in 1947.

Mossad is also believed to be behind the murder of several scientists, both Arab and foreign, who were helping develop Mideast nuclear programmes.

Last week Vittorio Arrigoni, an Italian activist with the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement (ISM), was found by Hamas security men hanged in a house allegedly belonging to an Al-Qaeda inspired Salafist Group.

Hamas police had rushed to the location after a video of Arrigoni blindfolded and beaten was released showing the captors threatening to kill him unless the Hamas authorities released imprisoned Salafist leaders.

Arrigoni had been based in Gaza since 2008 after sailing in on a Free Gaza boat which succeeded in temporarily breaking the Israeli siege of Gaza. He wrote regular reports on Israeli human rights abuses, particularly the targeting of Palestinian ambulances by the Israeli military during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead 2008-2009.

Several weeks earlier, across the geographical and political chasm which divides the Palestinians, another internationally renowned and respected pro-Palestinian activist was murdered.

Juliano Mer Khamis, an Israeli-Arab with a Jewish Israeli mother and a Christian Palestinian father, was gunned down in a hail of bullets as he left the Freedom Theatre in Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank.

Mer Khamis had left a lucrative acting career in Israel to move to and live in the squalid refugee camp which was razed by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) in 2002. He wanted to continue running the theatre established by his late mother.

At the Freedom Theatre young Palestinians, including former Palestinian resistance fighters, were given acting lessons and helped produce plays.

“I could have continued living a comfortable life in Israel but I wanted to pour my energy into something I strongly believed in, and that is showing Palestinians a side of life other than the misery they have endured under occupation,” Khamis told IPS during an interview several years ago.

The Freedom Theatre produced controversial plays that mocked both the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Israeli occupation. The plays, with their gender-mixing and Western-leanings, also outraged some Islamic fundamentalists in Jenin. The theatre was burnt down and attacked several times. Khamis was also subjected to several death threats.

The double-murders have sparked outrage amongst Palestinians and their Israeli and international supporters. Debate is raging as to who could have committed the murders, and especially why.

“It is difficult to know who exactly is behind Arrigoni’s murder. We are all in a state of shock and struggling to understand and digest this awful incident,” Karl Schembri, an aid worker in Gaza and a friend of the Italian told IPS.

Dr Ahmed Youssef, a political advisor to Gaza-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, said the Israelis had the most to gain from the murder of Arrigoni.

“They are trying to frighten international solidarity supporters from coming to Gaza. The next Free Gaza flotilla is due to arrive next month and Israel has upped the pressure to prevent it arriving and giving the country bad publicity like last year’s flotilla did,” Youssef told IPS.

Israeli commandos shot dead nine activists last year in disputed circumstances which provoked an international outcry at Israel’s deadly use of excessive force.

Dr Samir Awad from Birzeit University, near Ramallah, who supports neither Palestinian faction, agrees with Youssef’s assessment.

“The Salafist groups accused of murdering Arrigoni have stated they had nothing to do with the murder,” Awad told IPS.

“However, it is quite possible that Israeli intelligence has infiltrated the Salafist groups without their knowledge. Some of the members naively believe they are carrying out Jihad missions on behalf of shadowy Al-Qaeda groups.

“They are unaware that their actions actually support Israeli goals of aggravating relations between Hamas and the smaller Gaza resistance groups, creating chaos in Gaza and painting all Islamists with the same extremist brush.”

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority has failed to arrest any perpetrators for the murder of Khamis even though his babysitter, who was in the car when he was shot, identified one person in several lineups.

Unusually the Israelis have chosen not to get involved in the murder investigation of an Israeli citizen regarded as Jewish by the state. Some are speculating that PA intelligence is under pressure from Israel.

But radical Islamists and disaffected elements associated with the PA (which often violently oppresses critics) could also be contenders.

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