Palestinians gesture and wave the Palestinian flags (Photo: AP)
About eighty Italian activists arrived in Cairo on Wednesday as part of the "Stay Human" convoy heading to Gaza to participate in Nakba Day, the day that commemorates the creation of the state of Israel and the expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland.
Declining to give their names due to safety concerns, the group calls itself “We are all Vittorio” in memory of the Italian activist who was killed in Gaza on 15 February. “The Nakba will be three months from Vittorio’s killing and the day on which we will pay tribute to him by carrying on his work and building new projects in Gaza,” said one of the convoy members.
Vittorio Arrigoni is also being remembered by Egyptian activists planning a similar event on Nakba Day. A member of the Egyptian pro-Palestinian group “Activists for Palestine” and one of the organisers of the Egyptian march, Mahmoud Ahmed, says “He was a very dear friend. When we got arrested last year for handing out flyers about Palestine he did not leave us but chose to stay with us at the police station. When my friend Mohamed El-Gendy was taken into custody, Vittorio sent mass messages and emails all over the world campaigning for [Mohamed’s] release even though he did not know him.”
Under the Mubarak regime, pro-Palestinian activists were regularly arrested. In 2010, the regime reacted violently to prevent activists from entering Gaza through the Rafah border as part of a planned march. Vittorio was living in Egypt at the time and participated in the march as it made its way through en route to Gaza. With Mubarak gone, the “Stay Human” convoy is hopeful the new Egyptian regime will be more cooperative.
Vittorio’s death was also an inspiration for the convoy. One of the “Stay Human” activists explained, “after [Vittorio’s] death we were able to gather 80 Italian activists to head to Gaza in less than three weeks. Vittorio’s funeral was attended by thousands; it was like a pilgrimage of activists. Vittorio was not just a man but an idea. We need to show that we are not scared and that solidarity with Palestine will continue.”
Several Egyptian groups are planning simultaneous marches to the Rafah border on 15 May. On the day that marks the expulsion of Palestinians refugees from their homeland, these groups carry the demand shared by many Arab activists that all Palestinian refugees should be granted the right to return to their homeland.
International activists have been heading to Gaza regularly in support of Palestinians, and their efforts accelerated after Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza in 2007. These were stepped up further after Operation Cast Lead in 2008, the 22-day Israeli attack on Gaza that killed approximately 1,400 Palestinians and injured or maimed 5,000.
A flotilla carrying aid will also be sailing to besieged Gaza at the end of June. The flotilla had initially planned to leave in late May to mark the anniversary of the Israeli attack against an earlier flotilla in international waters that left nine Turkish citizens dead. The convoy had to be postponed to June, however, because of issues relating to Turkey’s participation.