Mistaken identity

Following the murder of Italian Angelo Frammartino, peace activists try to remain optimistic.

frammartino 88 (photo credit: )
frammartino 88
(photo credit: )
24-year-old Palestinian man murdered an Italian his own age named Angelo Frammartino August 10 because, according to the Jerusalem Police, he thought Angelo was a Jew. Bashar Azzeh, who represented the community center where Angelo was volunteering, said the Italian had spent his time in Israel "spreading happiness with the kids in Jerusalem." Activists doing similar things are now struggling to understand what the implications of Angelo's death might be for their movement, and who or what ought to be held responsible. "Angelo was a victim of the war," said his father, Michelangelo. "When we are talking about a situation of tension, absence of common sense dominates." But not everyone saw it that way; many looked beyond the notion of irrational violence to try to discover some other cause behind Angelo's death. "Violence is not just a primal act but an expression of a community and a society," said Sergio Bassoli, the man who led Angelo's group of volunteers. "We want to look at the social and political situation for which direct responsibility lies with the occupation." For some, the ideology behind Angelo's murder is not what deserves to be blamed, whether it be the ideology of Ashraf Hanaisha, who personally killed him, or the philosophy of Islamic Jihad, the group to which Ashraf is said to belong. What is responsible, according to some, is the phenomenon that gives the killer and his group their raison d'etre: the Israeli occupation since 1967. "This individual did an action which is terrible," said Sergio Yahni, an editor at the Alternative Information Center, which monitors the Israel-Palestinian conflict. "But I think this action is the outcome of a systematic reality in which we live. If we don't stop the occupation, we're in front of an open grave." If the Palestinians do need change, and many agree they do, then can violence be understood to be an appropriate tactic? Without defending it, Ingrid Jaradat, manager of a resource center for Palestinians called Badil, said Palestinians turn to violence against Israel because they think the other options available, namely diplomacy, have been tested in the past and were shown to be useless. "[Violence like Angelo's killing] happens because people misread the reality," Jaradat continued. "Some Palestinians have bad judgment of the overall situation and think that they can achieve something. It's just one crazy individual." Ingrid says that by killing Angelo, his murderer has done the Palestinian people a major disservice, especially at a time when internationals visit east Jerusalem more frequently. "One thing is for sure - the Palestinians want foreigners to be here," she said. "It doesn't matter whether it's foreigners working with international agencies or whatever, one of the big concerns is that we're being cut off from the rest of the world. The importance of Palestinians telling their story and being heard is seen very much as crucial. So when Palestinians are seen as the cause of the death of foreigners, it's a big challenge. Everybody agrees it shouldn't happen." According to a Jerusalem Police Department spokesperson, the man who killed Angelo is affiliated with the extremist group Islamic Jihad, which has as its goal the destruction of the State of Israel and its replacement with a Palestinian one under Islamic law. Even though it is much less popular than Hamas or Fatah, Islamic Jihad has become one of the most famous extremist organizations in the territories because of its relentless attacks on Israeli civilians. An expert in Palestinian affairs said Islamic Jihad's intention to totally remove the Jews from the Middle East distinguishes it from the "moderate" organizations willing to live alongside Israel. Bashar Azzeh, the representative of the Burj-Laq Laq community center for Angelo's group, who considers himself a moderate, said the only contact he and his friends have with the "extremists" is in youth forums in Ramallah that involve people from the entire ideological spectrum. "I think up till now there's no relationship," Azzeh said. "Personally, we avoid each other. It's very hard to build a relationship with somebody from the right wing. You don't know how to talk to the extremists because you know it's going to be argumentative." There is, however, some common ground shared by the moderates and extremists, according to Rami Bati, a director at Miftah, an NGO working for good governance in Palestinian society, and it has to do with "the occupation." "On the one hand," Bati said, "people see the logic of the existence of these groups. The logic is the existence of the Israeli occupation. Most think if there wasn't an occupation in the '67 borders there would be no logic. On the other hand, people aren't sympathetic to violence against civilians. The condemnation usually happens when they target buses and civilians, people going about their daily lives." Beyond mere condemnation, the death of Angelo Frammartino evoked an emotional response so poignant that it actually spurred a stronger commitment to work toward peace among the Italian activists in Israel. "For me, in my personal point of view, it was a tragedy," said Bassoli. "I started with 12 students and my goal was to come back to Italy with 12. In my personal point of view, I failed because I came back to Italy with 11… We are increasing our commitment now. We need to identify a new path for the achievement of peace. In Italy, I'm sure this tragedy can create a new commitment." "In your death, you have become a seed of peace," said the bishop of the Monterotondo diocese at Angelo's funeral in Monterotondo, his hometown near Rome. Positioning themselves to follow through on the optimism, Italian activists arranged an event August 26 to support pacifism in the wake of Angelo's death. It was a march through the town of Assisi, where Saint Francis lived, and was dedicated to Angelo's memory. Sergio Bassoli said others from his group also want to start an organization in Israel to reinvigorate Angelo's ideology in the years to come. "The Palestinian and Arab mind is a revenge mind," Bashar Azzeh said. "Internationals have a smart response, they believe in solidarity. That's new to the Palestinian mind. Those people that [have one of their own killed] turn the other cheek. How can we use the solidarity movement to our benefit so such an incident was kind of like a wake-up call? A wake-up call for many things, especially when it comes to the issue of killing." But what will be the exact nature of this wake-up call? Alongside consensus among activists that the killing was definitely wrong, its precise impact on the Palestinian solidarity movement remains to be seen in its entirety; while it might empower those combating violence in Israel, it could just as easily scare them out of the Middle East. "Everybody is very shocked and moved when something like this happens," Jaradat said. "It's not something that passes easily. People understand the implications."