Graziella De Palo was passionate about journalism and collaborated with the Radical News agency, with the Roman newspaper Paese Sera and with the magazine L’Astrolabio. The daughter of a police officer and a teacher of literature, Graziella De Palo graduated from the classical high school and enrolled in the faculty of literature of
“La Sapienza University” of Rome. There she began to develop her passion for journalism. When she was twenty she began writing for the news agency Notizie Radicali and collaborating with ABC, Quotidiano donna, I Consigli, Quotidiano dei Consigli and L’Astrolabio. In 1980 De Palo began to collaborate with Paese Sera. She wrote of arms trafficking between Italy and the Middle East, interviewing the General Falco Accame and taking an interest in the activity of Colonel Stefano Giovannone, the Beirut head of SISMI, the Italian military intelligence agency. Among the journalist’s most significant articles was the one published in Paese Sera on March 21st 1980, entitled “False sales, spies and ghost companies: in this way we deliver weapons”.
(Update by Loredana Colace, Raffaella Della Morte and Marta Ramadori – 3 May 2020)
The judicial investigations did not lead to the identification of the culprits and the bodies of Graziella De Palo and Italo Toni have never been found. Even today, family members have doubts about the reconstruction of the events according to which they left the hotel that day and never returned.
- 1980 – The Italian Embassy takes up the matter on September 15th at the request of the De Palo family. At the beginning of October, the Italian Foreign Ministry opens a dossier. The investigation is entrusted to the head of the SISMI (military intelligence) centre in Beirut, Colonel Stefano Giovannone, and not to the Italian ambassador to Beirut, Stefano d’Andrea. One of the main individuals dealing with the family members was Colonel Giovannone, who had an elusive and contradictory behaviour and at the trial was the first to invoke official secret limitations on relations with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Giovannone disseminated all kinds of information: first he communicated that Graziella was alive and was kept segregated under the surveillance of Arab women, then that there were no reasons to consider her still alive. In one of her articles Graziella De Palo without mentioning the name, had outlined the identity of the Middle East middle man of the Italian armaments industries.
- 1981 – On April 18th the De Palo family is received in Damascus by Yasser Arafat. The head of the PLO promises the release of Graziella. On the 12th June, the Christian Maronite militia denied responsibility for the kidnapping which took place in West Beirut, a territory under the strict control of the PLO.
- 1982 – On January 14th , the Italian government opens an investigation, entrusting it to a deputy of the Rome public prosecutor.
- 1983 – On January 24th the De Palo family returns to Lebanon, accompanied by a delegation of Italian journalists. Abu Ayad, head of the PLO secret service, who had invited her family, declares that Graziella is still alive and in the hands of the Christian Maronite Phalangists. But also this trip does not produce any concrete results for the investigation.
- 1984 – Prime Minister Bettino Craxi classifies the affair as a state secret. The names of Graziella and Italo are even removed from the lists of the relevant international official annals, which list journalists who have died doing their job.
- 1985 – The titular judge of the investigation in Italy asks for an International Arrest Warrant against George Habbash, a point of reference for all the radical opposition groups of the PLO and a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), suspected of being the instigator of the kidnapping and the killing of the two journalists. The judge also asked for the indictment of Colonel Giovannone and General Santovito, director of SISMI, for aiding and abetting. The investigative context is that of the so-called “Lodo Moro”, a secret pact between the then leader of the PLO, Yasser Arafat and the Italian government, whereby Italy was to be free from the attacks of the Palestinians who were, however, free to use Italy as a base and place of transit of men, weapons and explosives.
- 1986 – The investigation into the disappearance of Italo and Graziella ends without anyone found guilty: George Habbash is acquitted due to insufficient evidence and, because of their death, the men of the SISMI who allegedly hindered the search for truth are also acquitted.
- 2006 – In January, the case returns to public attention on the twenty-fifth anniversary of their deaths, thanks to the creation of the website toni-depalo.it and an episode of the Rai TV programme Who has seen it
- 2009 – Senator Francesco Rutelli invites Graziella’s brother, Giancarlo De Palo, to a hearing at Copasir (the parliamentary security committee). The family, in fact, in the previous months, had presented a formal request to the then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to declassify the state secret status affixed in 1984. Rutelli, with a letter signed unanimously by all the members of the Committee, asks and obtains from Berlusconi the declassification and release of about a thousand documents on the tragic death in the possession of SISMI (which in the meantime became AISE, the foreign intelligence service). The released documents contain material not directly related to the agreements entered into secretly by SISMI with the Organization for the Liberation of Palestine and which constitute the so-called Lodo Moro. This is the only case in Italian history that has seen the implementation of the new laws regarding the treatment of state secrets introduced by the last government of Romano Prodi with law no. 124, promoted by COPASIR itself.
- 2014 – On August 28th the secret classification is removed but only in relation to what does not concern relations between Italy and Palestinian organizations (Lodo Moro).
- 2017 – At the public conference promoted by Ossigeno per l’Informazione , in May of that year, Graziella’s mother and cousin said: “We are not asking who the culprits are, because we know how things have transpired . But we would like at least to have the remains of Graziella and Italo ”.
- 2019 – In December, accepting the request of family members and colleagues, the Rome Public Prosecutor’s Office reopens the investigation, thanks to an anonymous witness according to which Graziella De Palo was also investigating the Bologna terrorist bomb massacre, which took place on the 2nd August 1980, one month exactly before her disappearance. According to her brother Giancarlo, the journalist was following the “Lebanese trail”.
In the request filed with the Public Prosecutor’s Office, connections are apparent between some acts declassified in August 2014 and the arrest in November 1979 of Abu Azeh Saleh, head of the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) arrested in Bologna for being the underwriter of the transport of two surface-to-air missiles destined for the Palestinians.