Vik, habibo, you’re not gone, not for me at least. In life you brought the warmth everytime I met you, and to everyone else. You did not see it as a duty or a service but it was just how you were, to rouse and stir the best things inside us all for the better, every day, starting with ‘yallah habibo!’
I’m sorry Vik, for a few days there was the shock and the sorrow, which still re-emerges when I think of what happened to you or read another account of how you touched or brightened someone else’s life in Gaza and beyond.
Don’t worry, I’ll stay on the right track, the joyful track, the human track, for the overlying feeling left with me is of your warmth, the comforting feel that a big friendly giant is still escorting me onwards, your huge heart and boundless humanity that is the lifeblood of your actions, so strong that it wraps us all up and takes us with you.
I don’t know when or how it was exactly that your life became an indomitable, unswerving and relentless drive for the cause of others more hard done by and wronged than yourself. You joined the Palestinian struggle for justice and liberation nearly 10 years ago and since I met you it’s been routine for you to use any means at your disposal to put justice for the Palestinians first before anything else.
There have been dedicated people for the Palestinian cause but why so much love for you Vik? Why so much affection? I’ve heard Palestinians saying they cried more for you than when they lost a brother or a sister. Because, probably a long time before your decision to tirelessly and bravely dedicate your life to justice in Palestine, it also became your priority to remind everyone of their humanity for every living minute you were around them.
As you recounted for me that meant attempting to fight your own anguish in Gaza during Israel’s Cast Lead attacks as you met people in Gaza hospitals or ambulances that you aided and reported from, trying to stay strong and positive for the many men, women and children you met who had lost limbs, or loved ones.
‘Stay human’, you titled your book so eloquently describing life during this devastation. With me I saw you entertain kids everywhere we went, them hanging off your enormous arms tattooed with ‘Handala’, ‘Guevara’ and ‘resistance’. Or your time jostling and joking with the fishermen who took you in as their crew and comrade, accompanying them into the perils of fishing under fire from Israeli gunships.
And the laughter, your bellowing roar coming from the gut, bringing us to life in harder times. The story of your arrival on the first Free Gaza boat to huge Gaza crowds while you stood on top waving just a stick around for half an hour not realising the Palestinian flag had blown away a long time before.
Our attempts to communicate with Taxi drivers (mumkin! mushkila! Ah mish mushkila! akid!) Our macabre jokes before facing the Israeli firing while accompanying farmers or demonstrations – Abu Tunis was happy to be your sidekick as we faced the music while you sang ‘Ounadikkum’, ‘I’m calling you’. The games we had, spoons, cheat, football with shisha, chai, shawarma, barbecues and our own variations of debka dancing.
Like our brothers and sisters in Palestine who so endeared themselves to us with their generosity of spirit, you too put out there your big warm heart no matter who they were, a dedication to staying human amidst the good and tragic times.
Such humble and equal treatment of everyone brought out the humanity in those around us, as did your accepting of your own strengths and weaknesses. And just as people in Gaza loved you, it was their compassion that inspired your love for them, and your unbreakable commitment to their cause.
After arriving and breaking the siege on the first Free Gaza boat to dock at Gaza’s port in 40 years, you wrote:
Our message of peace is a call to action for other ordinary people like ourselves not to hand over your lives to whatever puppeteer is in charge this time round .
But to take responsibility for the revolution.
First, the inner revolution to give love, to give empathy It is this that will change the world.
You had obviously had this inner revolution Vik, and no doubt battled to constantly renew it. You won the battle, you brought more love and empathy than most of us will ever do, and it will warm my heart for years to come.
Vittorio you are the dreamer who never gave up and we won’t give up. Like the love, the humanity, the laughter and the courage, your dreams live on inside all of us and through your life you taught us that this victory counts the most.