Palestinian Peacebreakers in Iceland

Culture - February 29, 2024

Iceland has long been one of the most peaceful countries in the world. Surrounded by the North Atlantic Ocean, she is so far away from other countries that she never even felt a need to establish her own military. Distance was the defence of this tiny nation, with a population hovering for centuries around 50,000. The only real attack on the island was in 1627 when Arab pirates from two North African towns, Salé and Algiers, raided the South and the East of Iceland, killing around 50 and bringing around 400 to their home towns where they were sold as slaves. (Eventually about 50 returned after ransom had been paid.) Although Iceland was occupied in the Second World War, first by the British and then by the Americans, it was with tacit acceptance in the case of the British and under a special agreement with the Americans. But now it seems the Arabs are back, this time as asylum seekers from the Palestinian territories.

Falasteen Abu Libdeh Welcomes the Hamas Attack

On 9 October, two days after the barbaric Hamas attack from Gaza on Israel, when women were raped, soldiers beheaded, and infants killed in ovens, three women were invited by Icelandic State Television to discuss it. One of them, Dilja Mist Einarsdottir, was a natural choice as the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Icelandic Parliament. Another participant, Magnea Marinosdottir, is an activist for the Palestinian-Arab cause, but poses as an authority on the Middle East where she has worked for the Red Cross and the United Nations. The third participant was a Palestinian Arab who has lived in Iceland for decades, Falasteen Abu Libdeh. She owns and runs a company which issues gender equal pay certificates. Thus, on the television programme the Palestinian-Arab cause had two voices, Israel had none, and one person was participating in an official capacity. Most Icelanders were however shocked when the Palestinian Arab, Falasteen Abu Libdeh, said that she welcomed the Hamas attack.

In the Hamas attack, 1,200 Jews were killed—the largest number of Jews killed in one day since the Holocaust—and more than 200 Jews were taken hostage. Of course the Israeli Defence Forces entered Gaza, and a war began. The other Nordic countries have since then tried to rescue from Gaza their own citizens (mainly Palestinian Arabs who had been granted asylum in the Nordic countries, but who had returned to Gaza to live there). There are however no (or only a few) Icelandic citizens living in Gaza. But after the war broke out, a vocal Icelandic group supporting the Palestinian-Arab cause has demanded that Iceland grant asylum to about 100 individuals related to the Palestinian Arabs already in Iceland. This is roughly the same number of non-citizens as all the other Nordic countries combined are trying to rescue, for various reasons. Iceland has about 390,000 inhabitants, whereas the other Nordic countries have 27 million inhabitants in total. The demand is in other words that 390,000 people should accept as many non-citizen Palestinian-Arab asylum seekers as 27 million people! In fact, last year, 2023, Iceland received as many Palestinian Arabs as the other Nordic countries combined, and she contributed more money per capita to the Palestinian-Arab cause than the other Nordic countries, and probably any other country. Once in Iceland, the Palestinian-Arab asylum seekers enjoy the same social rights as Icelandic citizens, including the right to free schooling for children, free health care and social housing if needed.

New Demands Instead of Gratitude

It cannot be said that the Palestinian Arabs, and their Icelandic supporters, have shown much gratitude for the extraordinary assistance hitherto rendered to their cause. Every day some members of parliament are inundated with emails where they are called child murderers because they are not doing enough about the Gaza War. Protesters regularly gather outside the meeting place of the Icelandic cabinet, demanding that relatives of Palestinian Arabs already in Iceland be brought immediately out of Gaza. For a month, Palestinian Arabs and their Icelandic supporters turned the square in front of the House of Parliament into a filthy campsite, without obtaining the necessary permits in advance and taking electricity illegally from a charging station. The left-wing majority in the Reykjavik City Council did nothing, nor did the police. (The tents were finally taken down in late January.) In one of their posters it says: ‘Freedom of Movement is everybody’s right, We will stay here, We will fight.’ Fight? Rather ominous in peaceful Iceland. Protesters climbed the statue of Jon Sigurdsson, the revered leader of Iceland’s independence struggle in the nineteenth century, waving the Palestinian flag. They did the same to the statue of King Christian IX who had given Iceland a liberal constitution in 1874 (when she was still a Danish dependency).

In particular, the protesters directed their ire at Dilja Mist Einarsdottir, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. She was regarded as not being sufficiently sympathetic to the Palestinian-Arab cause. For example, when she was watching a football game with her 10-year old son, she was accosted by an activist, an obscure film maker by the name of Lukka Sigurdardottir. A male activist attending a protest meeting in front of the House of Parliament on 12 February threw a large and sharp hailstone at Dilja Mist’s car as she was leaving the parking garage of the building and shouted abuse at her, until the police removed him. (The police refuse to disclose his name, even to the Speaker of the Parliament.) It is telling that none of the most vocal supporters of the Palestinian-Arab cause, including the radical feminists Magnea Marinosdottir, Sema Serdaroglu, and Helga Kress, condemned this attack on Dilja Mist. Nor do these feminists have anything to say about the mass rape of Israeli women in the Hamas attack on 7 October or about the systematic discrimination by Hamas of women in Gaza over the years.

The Attack on the Foreign Minister

Perhaps the most noteworthy incident was at a meeting held by the Institute of International Affairs at the University of Iceland on 8 December 2023, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, Leader of the Left Green Party, was supposed to give the opening address, but she cancelled at the last minute, probably because she had received advance warning from her left-wing friends about what was about to happen. Another person who did not make an appearance at the meeting was the Director of the Institute of International Affairs, Pia Hansson, probably also because she knew what was being planned. Pia had some days before signed a Declaration about the Gaza War where the barbaric Hamas attack on Israel was not mentioned, but where Israel was accused of colonialism, genocide and ethnic cleansing, while Icelandic academics was urged to boycott Israeli academics. When Foreign Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, Leader of the centre-right Independence Party, was about to give the opening address, a protester, Katrin Hardardottir, who works as a translator, rushed up to him and threw a glitter bomb at him (as seen in the photograph above). At that moment, several protesters rose from their seats, raised a banner and one of them, the songstress Margret Kristin Blondal, shouted a few obscenities. When the Foreign Minister tried to take a seat, another glitter bomb was thrown at him. Then the Chairman of the Board of the Institute of International Affairs, Professor Gudmundur Halfdanarson, who had watched all this with an open mouth and in utter helplessness cancelled the meeting. He had however not reacted in any way to the fact that the Director of the Institute, as well as two staff members, had signed a pro-Hamas declaration some days before. The Foreign Minister did not have any protection, as Iceland has long been regarded as a safe place, also for controversial politicians. The police have since commented that the personal security of government ministers will be reviewed after this incident.

Perhaps it is an irrelevant fact, but historically certainly an interesting one, that the grandfathers of two players in this mini-drama, Pia Hansson and Gudmundur Halfdanarson, were two of the 27 Icelanders trained in Soviet revolutionary camps in the early 1930s. Thoroddur Gudmundsson, Pia’s grandfather, and Jafet Ottosson, Gudmundur’s grandfather, both arrived in Moscow in the autumn of 1930. The training camps were strictly secret and the trainees bore code names, Thoroddur was ‘Otto Stein’ whereas Jafet was ‘Dan Mengel’. The Icelanders, like other trainees, received instruction in Marxism-Leninism and the history of Russia’s Bolshevik Party, but also in handling arms and organising strikes and street riots, and in espionage and secret communications (coding and decoding, writing in invisible ink and so on). Thoroddur left Moscow in 1932. He became a fisherman in the North of Iceland and was a member of parliament for the communist-dominated Socialist Party in 1942–1945. Unlike Thoroddur, Jafet did not do well in Moscow and was in the spring of 1931 sent back to Iceland where he found employment as a baker. He was convicted in 1932 for his part in two violent riots in Reykjavik, organised by the communists. In the riots, several policemen were severely injured. In 1946 Jafet was one of the participants in an assault on Foreign Minister Bjarni Benediktsson (the namesake and great uncle of Foreign Minister Bjarni Benediktsson) in front of the headquarters of the Independence Party.

Follow the Money!

Icelandic public opinion has been quite sympathetic to the Palestinian Arabs, widely seen as an oppressed, beleaguered minority. But this may be changing as a result of the insolent behaviour of the Palestinian Arabs in Iceland and their supporters. People are also beginning to ask questions about the generous aid which Iceland, and the other Nordic countries, have given to the Gaza authorities. This money has not been properly accounted for, which leaves a suspicion that some of it may have been used to finance the terrorist activities of Hamas. When it was revealed that at least twelve staff members of the UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, had directly participated in the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel, Foreign Minister Bjarni Benediktsson delayed Iceland’s disbursement of her annual contribution to UNRWA, against feeble protests from his coalition partner, the Left Greens. Allegedly, many more UNRWA staff members actively work for Hamas. Many other countries have suspended aid to UNRWA, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.

Another intriguing financial issue which is being discussed in Iceland is that a collection has been organised by some activists to finance the deliverance from Gaza of those Palestinian Arabs who have relatives in Iceland and are therefore eligible for a residence permit. They announce that the deliverance from Gaza of each Arab costs around 5,000 US dollars. But the question is what this money is for. It seems likely that at least a part of it is used to bribe Hamas operatives or Egyptian officials. But bribes are totally forbidden by Icelandic law, irrespective of the cause, good or bad, which they are alleged to serve. This should be investigated by the Icelandic police which has however chosen to be quite passive in everything to do with the anti-Israeli activists. It is probably deemed too sensitive a subject. But as Gertrude Stein would say: A law is a law is a law …

The End of Idyl

Public opinion in Iceland may also be beginning to change for a different reason, perhaps not altogether fairly. In the other Nordic countries, crime rates of immigrants from the Palestinian territories are higher than of any other minority group. Some recent incidents in the normally tranquil Iceland suggest no exception to that rule. For example, in mid-February the police had to intervene when two men were fighting with knives in Reykjavik. They turned out to be Palestinian Arabs who had been granted asylum. More than that: One of them, carrying a valid Greek passport, had been expelled from Iceland in October 2022 and escorted to Greece by three policemen, as he was considered a threat. The three policemen returned to Iceland on 12 October. But only a day later, on 13 October, the same Palestinian Arab returned to Iceland, and since Iceland is in the Schengen area he could get in! One reason for this extraordinary or even farcical course of events is that some airlines flying to Iceland refuse to provide the Icelandic authorities with passenger lists in advance, although they have a legal duty to do so. Moreover, in mid-February two Palestinian Arabs registered as having asylum in Iceland were arrested in Slovenia, accused of human trafficking. It is also noted that in 2023 80 per cent of those taken into custody in Iceland were foreigners. Of those confined to prison in the same year 28 per cent were foreigners. There is also some vague and unconfirmed news about rape cases where Palestinian Arabs are supposed to be involved but where the police refuse to provide any information about the origin of alleged perpetrators.

Of course, such incidents and much less such rumours cannot be used to denounce Palestinian Arabs as a whole. ‘I do not know the method of drawing up an indictment against a whole people,’ Edmund Burke rightly said. I am sure that there are as many good men and women among Palestinian Arabs as among other groups, nations and nationalities. And a little Palestinian child should be loved and cared for as much as a little Jewish child, or a little Icelandic child. But the problem remains that the culture of the Palestinian Arabs is one where violence is not condemned as strongly as in Iceland, where women and minorities do not enjoy the same respect, and where hard work is not valued as much. It was not without consequences when the Arab states refused to integrate the Arabs from the Palestinian territories and kept them instead for generations in refugee camps.

The Old Iceland

Perhaps the most instructive recent incident in Iceland was that the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra thought it advisable when a famous violinist, Vadim Gluzman, was playing at a concert in early February not to reveal that he was an Israeli (who had proudly served in the Israeli Army as a young man). It only said in the programme that he was born in Ukraine. This was of course nothing dramatic. Foreigners reading about the incidents involving Palestinian Arabs in Iceland will probably think that they are of minor importance. Nothing serious has happened yet. But some of us miss the peaceful old Iceland where government ministers did not need any protection and where it was all right to announce when a Jew was playing at a concert.