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“Yes, we are funding the occupation,” Swedish minister glibly tells Gaza youth

When your hosts arrive late to a meeting then leave you in the middle of the discussion, you might accept the reasons they provide and not get irritated. But when they fail to address the points you raise as though you never even raised them, one cannot but find this behavior very disrespectful, if not downright rude.

On Monday, together with other young Palestinians, I was invited to attend a meeting with Gunilla Carlsson, Sweden’s Minister of International Development Cooperation and vice chairman of the Moderate Party, a center-right political.

We met at a fancy restaurant-café overlooking the sea in Gaza City. Although Carlsson was there on time, we could not start before other Swedish officials and at least one journalist joined us about five to ten minutes later. It was difficult to distinguish journalists from officials because pictures were being taken all throughout the meeting.

We were all there to discuss what “they,” the European Union, can do for “us,” the youth of Gaza living under Israeli occupation. Although I am convinced of the uselessness and eurocentrism of this kind of discussion, I did not hesitate to accept the invitation because it is always amusing to hear the hypocrisy firsthand.

Evading Israel’s responsibility

Carlsson, clad in a traditional Palestinian embroidery dress, began by suggesting that Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank should be “brought together” noting, with a smirk,  that people in the West Bank refer to themselves as “West Bankers,” just as people in Gaza often refer to themselves as “Gazans.” However, she made no mention of Israel’s policy of dividing Palestinians and forcing them into separate bantustans, with municipal powers at best. We told her that bringing Palestinians “together” in the physical sense is impossible due to the Israeli-controlled Erez checkpoint that perches between us.  

Carlsson nodded – nodding was the mantra – then went on to blame Hamas for cracking down on cultural activities and youth gatherings, implying that had it not been for the Hamas government and its security apparatus, Gaza would have flourished culturally.

I explained to Carlsson that Israel is the primary actor in the deterioration of the social and cultural life in the Gaza Strip, and that Israel’s missiles neither spare students nor universities. I also gave the example of the recent Palestine Festival of Literature in Gaza, during which members of the Hamas youth, and even some of the group’s high-profile officials, attended a few of the events and participated just like anyone in the audience.

This notion was reiterated more than once by many of us who were in the discussion. Seeing that no one agreed with her complete evasion of Israel’s responsibility for dwindling cultural and social conditions, Carlsson asked: “So you think we should talk to Hamas?” But before anyone could answer she said: “But you know our contact policy in the EU. We are waiting for the Palestinian elections to be held.”

At this point everyone at the table, save the Swedish officials of course, burst out laughing. “Good luck waiting,” commented Yasmeen El-Khoudary, a blogger and co-founder of the Diwan Ghazza cultural forum. I could barely keep silent, and literally had to bite my lip to avoid cracking up.

“Yes, we are funding the occupation” 

Carlsson was not impressed. The reaction was perhaps not what she expected. “So how do you think we [in the EU] can help?”

Here the conversation started to sting. Carlsson was obviously expecting us to ask her to supervise an initiative that calls for fighting misogyny under the “Islamist rule” of Hamas or against the “Islamization” of the Gaza Strip. 

 ”You can do a lot,” I answered, “the EU has influence over Israel but it is simply not interested.” Here Carlsson turned her face, talked to the waiter, then an official, as if I was not speaking to her. “For example,” I continued raising my voice a little bit, “the EU decided that settlement products will be labeled as thus but this is taking longer than needed, the EU also upgraded its trade relations with Israel last year.”

Carlsson did not address any of my points. In between her chat with the waiter and official, she nodded and nodded, but being so focused on what the official was telling her, in a low voice of course, I do not think she heard much of what I was saying.

Sameeha Elwan, a blogger and human rights worker, also criticized EU’s policy and double standards. “Yes, we are funding the occupation, you can blame us,” Carlsson finally confessed.

“I can ask you to fund a cultural project,” I added, “but this does not address the root cause of the problem which is the Israeli occupation …” Fidgeting and once again chatting with the same official just as I spoke, Carlsson suddenly interrupted me saying that they are late and “have to go” to another meeting.

But she and her crew apparently had a few more minutes to take pictures with us, though definitely not to address or at least listen to what we were saying.

Warmth toward occupiers, threats toward Palestinians

One day after the meeting, Gunilla Carlsson met Yair Lapid, Israel’s finance minister and a so-called “centrist” who is open in his anti-Palestinian views. Tweeting her picture with him, both grinning, she described the meeting as “good.” Of course, Carlsson was not there to discuss the taxes Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority then withholds at the whim of its prime minister.

Gunilla Carlsson, who shamelessly meets with Israeli politicians involved in war crimes and the bloody and brutal occupation of the Palestinian people, comes to Gaza through the Erez crossing — a right Palestinians are denied — with the approval of the same Hamas government which she refuses to recognize, then has the nerve to criticize them and behave as though our liberation cannot but come through the European Union’s imperialist and pro-Israel policies.

But Carlsson’s hypocrisy does not end here. On 14 June, she threatened to cut financial aid to the Palestinian Authority should negotiations with Israel not resume. What is most disgusting about this is Carlsson’s failure to voice the same threats to Israel whose relentless land theft and colonization in the West Bank constitute the primary obstacles to the resumption of the “peace process.”

In fact, Carlsson not only failed to criticize Israel’s settlement expansion policy and disinterest in peace but bizarrely praised Yitzhak Molcho, Israel’s chief negotiator, as “committed,” “serious” and “engaged for peace.”

Our meeting at least served one useful purpose. It was a reminder that liberation, the end of racism, famine and poverty, do not come through double-faced, disrespectful and Eurocentric politicians such as Gunilla Carlsson.

Comments

You´ll just have to wait some thirty years then our rightwingers will describe themselves as those in the forefront for Palestinian freedom. But, alas, do not except them to actually do anything. They are just happy with rewritng history afterwards, just as they did with South Africa and apartheid...

I'm ashamed of how the Swedish minister behaves and furious about her talking about cutting the financial aid to Palestine.

thankyou for writing this. i am so very frustrated after reading this and learning how such a high level politician from EU can behave like hypocrite in an in-person meeting too!

I am sure she heard the points that you raised but just acted dumb to avoid answering and kept nodding like an idiot.

I just cant believe how much frustrating it could be for you guys out there, meeting them in-person and still not getting appropriate answers. Hatsoff to you guys and please keep up the spirit. One day inshallah palestine will be free and completely independent on its own.

cheers!

I am ashamed over our minister Gunilla Carlsson, but not surprised. She is a disaster. I believe next year, at latest, she has been substituted.

Thank you for exposing Gunilla Carlsson's attitude. Of course you need to go to such meetings and speak as you and the others Ms Carlsson did not listen to did in response to her excellent question. Maybe she will remember you, your articulateness, firm politeness and maybe even the points you raised. Maybe it will take time to sink in. Maybe she will continue to show off her beautiful dress and get caught in her own contradictions,

Dear Sisters and Brothers stay strong. They decent people of the world is on your side, the whole world..
The evil people, with Zionist support will ignore you, laugh at you , fight you and then YOU WILL WIN !!

Hi. I had already sent a message to Gunilla Carlsson on Saturday when I found out she was planning on stopping aid to Palestine "on behalf of the taxpayers." I told her I'M a tax payer and I told her to stop the occupation instead. I encourage anyone else commenting here and paying taxes in Sweden to send her a message too.

Secondly, after reading this article, I spent this day writing an article of my own in Swedish. I took the information in this article and wrote with my own input in Swedish. I sent it to a regional newspaper in Sweden, but if they will print it or not is another question. They once printed an article I wrote about racism, so... I'm hoping for the best, but maybe not expecting it.

This is what Gunilla Carlsson said in March 2009, right after the 2008/2009 attack on Gaza (stress added). Putting the blame in the middle. She's so brave.

"Mr Chairman, may I at the outset express my deep condolences to the Palestinian people for the suffering and loss of lives in Gaza. It is especially painful to know that many victims were children. In this war *both parties* breached international law. We support the UN inquiry taking place and expect *all parties* to take responsibility for their actions." She also said: "The occupation must end. [...] we need Israeli commitments that investments of international donors will not once again be brought to nothing" (read: not be bombed I guess).

http://www.theinformationdaily...

Thanks for writing this. Your perspective does a lot of good for the debate here in Sweden - and I have seen this article shared quite a lot today.

Very, very sad.

Glib, possibly disrespectful, and apparently clueless; she lives in the privileged world and aims to stay there.

I wonder how many Swedish citizens, like U.S. citizens, want their government to show more leadership, and to conduct itself with more balance in areas such as this, and yet, we end up feeling helpless as we witness what officials DO, instead of what they ought to do.

Seems to me the politics of money and wealth and privilege are the strongest in the world. These governments and their officials have no incentive, without a basis in that equation of money wealth and privilege, to help Palestine or any other nation. Clearly, too, Israel and its allies succeed well at that game of money and wealth and privilege. What's right and wrong, moral and immoral, ethical and unethical...these do not seem to factor at all...

It really is too sad.

EU Representative, Guinilla Carlsson, hypocrisy is thy name. How can a person of such "stature" and importance be so oblivious to the reality of "facts on the ground" in both Gaza and in the West Bank? Perhaps, someday, her willful ignorance will be exposed and she will be regarded as no more than a "piss ant." For shame, Ms. Carlsson, for shame.

I lived in Sweden for about seven years. Swedes themselves relish thinking of
themselves as perfection, altruistic. This is a trait many of us share. The US
media enjoys every report of any wart in Sweden it can find thus burying their
own sins. Sweden has done much for many but its attainment of perfection is
much exaggerated. I urge those of us supporting Palestinian rights and condemning Israeli transgressions to continue to work on puncturing Sweden's
picture of itself as basking in altruistic glory. To be brief, congratulations for this
article..An immediate suggestion would be letters to the primary newspapers of each of Sweden six primary parties mercilessly uncovering Swedish sins.
---

Dear Peter,
You comment here was the most Stupid and ignorant comment I have ever read. If one minister misbehaves, what has that got to do with the rest of Sweden?
And if Swedes have a good picture of their country, don't say Americans don't. Because I certainly now Americans have an amazing picture of themselves.
I don't now what kind of place you visited that gave you this horrible picture of Sweden during your 7 year of misery.
Lots of Swedes have commented here, to the favour of Palestina and still you criticise the the Swedish people.
Shame on you Peter!

Brava, Rana! well said. These people are not worth our time and should stick to photo ops with their criminal Israeli friends. Next time, I hope no Palestinian will meet with her and let her and her ilk be treated with the contempt they deserve.

Hi,
Very interesting to share your first hand experience of one of our most incompetent ministers (and we do have a few). I wrote about this on my blog and I will share this you have written. It´s actually incomprehensible how little high officials now about facts on the ground and sad, I think mostly, how little they care about the palestinians rights. I hope you have the strength to fight on.

I just had to say, the title of your comment is roughly what I titled my article: Sveriges Skam - Gunilla Carlsson. (Gunilla Carlsson, the shame of Sweden). And I think I also wrote in it that I was ashamed for Sweden because of this incident.

It's true, this is a side of Sweden you rarely see. After reading this article, I realized I should probably start to learn more about how Swedish politics work. I've lived here for c. 2 years now. For example, I thought the Social Democrats were in power... At least I know now what parties NOT to vote for.

You have lived here c. 2 years now and already an expert on Sweden!
For example, you thought (?!) that the Social Democrats were in power ... Now you claim that you know what you should not vote for...

Well I guess you will vote next time for the Sweden Democrats, that is to say if you have the right to vote after you have lived in Sweden for about two years....

Fully agree. We should reduce our financial support in this reagion.

Good day Rana Baker!
You actually write about something interesting with inspiration to everyone of us living in Sweden. You remind us all that it is important to make your voice heard! The real issue at hand is for the palestinians. The political situation is in a status quo and it will not change in the near future, therefore it can be wise to think twice over what a Swedish minister can say, or do in diplomatic meetings (no matter what Gunillas views are). Even so, you as a palestinian must recognize that also palestinians have a responsibility to act in theyre own interest. Now, in a way, Gunilla couldve listened more carefully and expressed her sympathies, also louded criticism against Israeli policy against palestinians, but what good would have come out of that is not comparable what she can get out of a meeting with Israeli ministers. I find it very strange that you of all, a palestinian girl fighting for liberation didnt write one critical meaning of the leadership in Gaza (mostly Hamas) and the alternatives of extreme political and religious views, groups standing behind them. That you of all, a palestinian didnt understand the great meaning of political value and real value. The difference between feelings, expressed sympathies and change in the reality. Sometimes it feels like palestinians have the "escapegoat": Israel is the problem whenever there is a problem in Gaza or the West Bank. Sometimes it feels like palestinians go to from meeting to meeting just to have those emotional needs of recognition and sympathies satisfied. Sometimes it feels like when Hamas is having trouble getting water and electricity to your own home in Gaza, it might feel like it is Israel standing behind that incapacity, that flaw. But really you know in your heart that things couldve been different.

Financial aid is made for those in need, and that is of course true for alot of people in Gaza. But this picture that people are poor in Gaza does not reflect reality. If you do your homework on these issues you will find that alot of families in Gaza have plenty of money and are very often owners of socalled land properties. All this is well known, meanwhile the financial aid to palestinians indeed needs to be cut (crack down the numbers and see for yourself), it is still true that alot of people still needs it. The real issue is again the palestinians inability to selfcritize those institutions who blindely hands out money to people and families that are actually rich and does not work or trying to create new jobs. Not to speak of the corruption rate in Hamas or other political and religious organisations in the Strip that profits from the current status quo. You might think that the stalled "peace process" as you so elaquently put it, is in fact stalled because of the unwillingness from the Israeli side to move forward and stop settlement-activity, but that will still not be the whole true story. The radical islamists in Gaza has prevented any kind of development or chance for negotiations because they have no real political strategy. Hamas comes up with politically impossible pre conditions, also only to stall (exactly like Netanyahu) to keep the status quo. However the strategy, it is failing. Hamas is not winning any momentum in any important country (atleast not with a stable democracy and economy). Palestinians reputation is falling. Only a clear result of the emotional politics that palestinians always are so close to apply, a clearly failed strategy. It is time to change that pattern. We must not wait for other countries to solve our problems, aid is for emergency, for those in need. Independency is the only way. Cant we put our own food, get electricity and clean water, we must let someone else do it who can. Are you unhappy, blame palestinians and Israel

....our swedish politicians mostly form their opinion of the world on what they are told by their superiors. And for the swedish conservative part (M) their ultimate superiors are US democrats, like John Kerry, Hillary Clinton or the winner of the Nobel peace price, president Obama himself. Thus when You tell Gunilla Carlsson about the realities in Palestine she simply can not understand what You say as she can not connect Your views with the realities in Palestine as mr Kerry has described them to her.
Also, You should be aware, that she treat swedes that makes the same claims as You about Palestine in exactly the same way. She simply does not listen to us either.
Sweden is not and was never a truly democratic country. It is and was always allied with the strongest western powers, like USA, England or France. The main difference to these countries is that Sweden is peaceful and always tries to convince these major powers to search peaceful solutions ... that´s all ....

Thank you for this article!
I hope you already knew this and didnt get too frustrated.
We are here in sweden; fighting this hypocrisy day by day.
Undressing them.
And we are with you!
Big hug and keep going and I make the same promise to you!

We are many in Sweden who don,t think we can punish you the Palestinians ,that Israel is not working for a peaceful solution. It is not acceptable. Her statements have got a massive reaction from most Swedish parties, one of the biggest news papers have now added a link to your blog post, with a large spread. We are many who support your struggle for an independent state.

From what I understand Fatah and Hamas have also committed war crimes, although not on the same scale as Israel. How come that was not mentioned? Do war crimes only exist to accuse those with whom with disagree?

Thank you for sharing this story with us. I work for the Swedish government and I can assure you that no other party in the Swedish government, or in the parliament, agrees with Carlsson's ideas. She stands alone and has few supporters in her proposal to withdraw development aid to the Palestinian authorities.

I am a swedish man. I´m sorry for my representative. I wish her and her party was not my representatives. I´m trying to work to change my government. I´ts sort of hard work but let us never give up. Ignorance is spreading wide and I fear for that humanity as a whole is going very wrong in front of the one true Lord, Allah. I want the UN and EU to start boycott on Israel and USA. How can i reach my goal when bribes are so common? People in general in Sweden look for money, not barakat. I´m sad.

The politicians in charge in sweden today are lapdogs to the americans. Carl Bildt, our foreign minister is even to as a medium sized dog by the americans themselves. Our prime minister is a friend of Karl Rove and the prime ministers brother is ceo at JP Morgan. And they try to sneek us into NATO despite public opinion against it. So in that perspective Gunilla Carlssons behavior isnt very surprising.

The swedish government is bought. Fortunately most swedes are still not.