In Europe, we are seeing the emergence of a strong movement against the Israeli occupation and against its war with Lebanon. Since Israel’s aggression began a couple of weeks ago, people have raised their voice in at least fifty-seven cities1 all over Europe, not only to denounce the Israeli aggression against the Palestinian and Lebanese people, but also to ask the United Nations and European governments to take action to stop this. The Bush administration was harshly criticised for its unbending support of Israel and for human rights abuses in its so called “war on terrorism”. With ever-increasing violence, especially following Israel’s vicious bombardment and the beginnings of a ground offensive in Southern Lebanon, more and more protests and demonstrations will take place. In this article, Adri Nieuwhof assesses how far the movement has come.
Our foreign affairs Minister must listen
The Swedish Campaign for Solidarity with Palestine launched its first action on 14 July 2006. At half past one in the afternoon, some 100 activists approached the main entrance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building in Stockholm. The police tried, without success, to break the protestors’ human chain with violent shoves, pepper spray and dogs. The entrance remained closed. The demand was to see someone from the Ministry to hand over a protest letter, which was later read out loud. The letter called for an end to military and diplomatic relations with Israel and for Sweden to restore diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority.
A representative from the Ministry eventually came outside, spoke with activists and promised to come back with a reply to the letter. Following two hours of holding the human chain and vigorous chanting, which caught a buzz of media attention, Mr. Jan Eliasson, the Foreign Affairs Minister of Sweden, made known through the police that he was prepared to talk with a representative of the protest organisation.
Shora Esmailian, media spokesperson of the Campaign, met with the Minister to discuss Sweden’s foreign policy on the current situation. After this meeting Minister Eliasson tried to explain Sweden’s policy to the crowd , but was met by hoots and chants.
The Swedish Campaign has made it clear that it will step up its activities and mobilise maximum public support for a dignified Swedish policy towards “the devastation and slaughter pouring out over the Middle-East from the state of Israel”.
Rally in front of the government buildings
On Friday, 21 July 2006 at three o’clock sharp, several Swiss organisations of Palestinians, Lebanese, Muslims and solidarity groups with Palestine organised a demonstration against the war in Lebanon on the Bundesplatz in Bern, in front of the Swiss national government buildings. Organisations were invited to endorse the call for the protest. The invitation to join the demonstration was circulated by email, telephone and sms. Over 1,000 people participated. Speakers at the demonstration not only called for an intervention from the United Nations and the Swiss government, but also invited the public to boycott products from Israel. Big supermarkets in Switzerland continue to sell a lot of Israeli agricultural products.
In Greece, several different types of activities took place, organised by different groups. A radio marathon is shortly scheduled to take place in order to gather medicines to send to Gaza through the Red Cross.
Operation “See the light”
It is likely that British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett will receive lots of tea lights and candles in her post, since the UK Palestine Solidarity Campaign2 called on the public to do so. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs refused to condemn Israel’s attacks against Gaza, in which a power station was completely destroyed. On the website of the UK Campaign, the public can find a letter to go with the candle or tea light. In the letter, the Foreign Secretary is asked to forward the candles and tea lights to the people of Gaza. Maybe thousands of tea lights and candles will eventually make her “see the light”.
Building a checkpoint
On Saturday 15 July 2006 a checkpoint was set up on Mytotorget in Stockholm, a central square in Stockholm that faces the country’s Parliament building. The activists built an Israeli-style checkpoint during the middle of a busy Saturday afternoon, aimed at the weekend shopping crowd.
Twenty “shot Palestinians” lay bleeding on the ground. At the same time, the “Israeli soldiers” that were in control of the checkpoint threatened the Palestinians that were still alive. All the passers-by who “looked like” Israelis were permitted to pass, unhindered, through the checkpoint. They were informed why they were allowed to pass. However, those with an Arabic appearance had to go through ID-control, confronting the humiliation and abuse by the soldiers. One of the “Israeli soldiers” walked around with a megaphone, exclaiming what he thought of the Palestinians.
The activity triggered a lot of curiosity and mixed, though mostly positive reactions. In this way, much attention was drawn to the hundreds of Israeli checkpoints in occupied Palestinian territories.
Protest in front of the Israeli embassy
In many countries throughout Europe, protest demonstrations were organised in front of Israeli embassies, such as in Athens, in which over 1,000 people participated. In Geneva, Collectif Urgence Palestine3 will organise a non-stop vigil in front of the Israeli embassy until the war in Lebanon has ended.
It is remarkable and inspiring that, during a period in which many Europeans are on holiday, so many activities against the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the war against Lebanon are gaining such a momentum. It is important to continue joining forces and show Israel, the United States, the Palestinian people and, most of all, our governments, that Israel’s aggression must be stopped, and that Israel must immediately comply with international law.
Appeal from Nablus
In response to an email I sent to a contact in Nablus I received the following message:
“We scream to the international community for help and for protection. But our experience and knowledge is that none of this will bring any change. Europe is very shy to take any serious decision against the occupation of Palestine as they did in the past against South Africa. I hope that Europe will start to support our call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.”
Let us listen to this call and continue to act!
Adri Nieuwhof is a psychologist and human rights advocate.
 Austria: Vienna; France: Clermont Ferrand, Dyon, Grenoble, Marseille, Nice, Paris, Strasbourg, Toulouse, Valence; Germany: Aachen, Berlin, Bonn, Cologne, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hannover, Leipzig, Munich; Greece: Athens, Rethymno, Thessaloniki, Xania; Ireland: Dublin; Italy: Naples, Padova, Rome, Turin; The Netherlands: The Hague, Amsterdam; Norway: Oslo; Portugal: Lisbon; Serbia: Belgrade; Spain:, Barcelona, Madrid, Tarragona, Valencia; Sweden: Göteborg, Halmsted, Malmö, Pitea, Stockholm: Switzerland: Bern, Fribourg, Geneva; United Kingdom: Birmingham, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Kircaldy, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Oxford, Sheffield and York. A useful site collecting information on worldwide activities: lebanonexpats.org