‘Wow, Even Iceland’

Culture - March 9, 2024

Elon Musk, who needs no introduction, tweeted on 7 March 2024: ‘Wow, even Iceland.’ What provoked his comment was that on 4 March an asylum seeker, probably a Palestinian Arab (although the police refuse to reveal his identity), had started to shout his demands from the viewers’ gallery at Iceland’s Parliament House, then climbing over the gallery handrail and attempting to jump down into the meeting chamber of the Parliament. A police officer managed, with the help of a member of parliament who rushed to the scene, to grab the man before he jumped, and he was quickly removed. Meanwhile, his companions yelled obscenities at the members of parliament who were debating a bill on stricter rules about asylum seekers. The meeting had to be postponed. It is not clear however whether the intruder and his companions will be expelled from Iceland, as would seem reasonable.

Challenge from Palestinian Arabs

This was a shocking incident. Iceland prides herself of having the world’s oldest parliament, the Althingi. It was established in 930, convening every summer at an open forum in a place called Thingvellir, where it revised the law and resolved legal conflicts. It was a strictly enforced principle that nobody would bring weapons into the forum which was regarded as a sanctuary. It was considered a serious offence to try and disrupt the parliamentary proceedings. While the Althingi was abolished in 1800, it was reestablished in 1843. In Article 36 of the Icelandic Constitution it says: ‘Althingi is inviolate. No person may disturb its peace or violate its freedom.’ In Iceland’s penal code it says in Article 100: ‘Any person who attacks the Althingi in such a way as to pose a threat to its independence, issues an order aimed at doing so or obeys such an order shall be subjected to imprisonment of not less than 1 year.’

In the last few months, however Iceland has seen an extraordinary challenge to her peaceful ways. It has come from Palestinian Arabs and their Icelandic supporters, as I have described in a recent article. This has happened in spite of the fact (or perhaps because of it) that Iceland has recently been much more accommodating to Palestinian Arabs from Gaza than the other Nordic countries. For example, Iceland has issued residence permits to 97 individuals from Gaza who are relatives of Palestinian Arabs already in Iceland. Those Gaza people are not Icelandic citizens, whereas the other Nordic countries concentrate on assisting their own citizens in Gaza.

Behind the Scenes

In the last few months Palestinian Arabs and their supporters have repeatedly assembled outside the house where cabinet meetings are held, shouting insults at government ministers. In December, a woman assaulted Foreign Minister Bjarni Benediktsson at a meeting of the Institute of International Affairs at the University of Iceland (whose director had then recently signed a pro-Hamas declaration). The Minister had no security: in Iceland it has hitherto not been needed. In January, Palestinian Arabs and their supporters changed the square in front of Parliament House into a campsite. They have also hurled hailstones (easy to obtain during the Icelandic winter) at members of parliament. The police seem reluctant to respond.

Organising the protests behind the scenes are two individuals, the journalist Gunnar Smari Egilsson, who has founded an extremist organisation called the Socialist Party, and the activist Vidar Thorsteinsson, who was a volunteer in the militia protecting Yasser Arafat on the West Bank in 2003 (when there were rumours that Israel would be removing him). A Turkish-Icelandic woman, Sema Serdaroglu, is also a vocal supporter of the Palestinian Arabs, publicly condemning the mild-mannered Bjarni Benediktsson and his centre-right Independence Party as racists and thugs (her own words). Amazingly, she is studying ‘hate speech and harassment’ on a large grant from the University of Iceland.

Sinister Aspects

There is a sinister aspect to the whole affair. In January, an asylum seeker from Iraq was arrested in Akureyri, a quiet town in the north of Iceland. His application had been denied, as he had already been granted asylum in Greece. But it also turned out that he was an active member of the terrorist organisation Isis. He was promptly expelled. There have also been some cases where individuals from Arab countries whose applications for asylum have been denied and who have been expelled, escorted by police, have returned to Iceland, one of them twice. As Iceland belongs to the Schengen passport-free area, there are no border controls for passengers arriving from other Schengen countries. Again, the police and the immigration authority seem helpless.

An Icelandic organisation called Solaris, led by Sema Serdaroglu, has been collecting money in order to bring Palestinian Arabs with Icelandic residence permits from Gaza to Iceland. This organisation has not applied for permission for the collection as it is obliged to do under Icelandic law. That is however the least of its problems. The Solaris people say that it costs 5,000 US dollars to bring each Palestinian Arab to Iceland, and half that sum in the case of children. It is obvious that this amount of money is not related to any real cost of a trip from Gaza to Iceland. Most of it allegedly is paid to ‘facilitators’. They are in other words bribes. But bribes are strictly forbidden by Icelandic law, whether for a good or a bad cause, and whether transferred inside or outside Iceland (according to Article 6.10 of the penal code). Moreover, the whole initiative is probably in breach of Icelandic legal statutes against money laundering and terrorist financing. For example, if the Solaris people bring to Cairo bags stuffed with cash (as they are said to do), they may be guilty of laundering money. If some of the money ends up with Hamas terrorists, as is likely, they may be guilty of financing terrorism. Again, the Icelandic authorities do not seem to be doing anything about this. Until now, the Solaris people reportedly have helped 12 individuals to get from Gaza to Iceland.

Who are the 13 Unapproved Individuals?

The same day as the Palestinian Arab disrupted the proceedings of the Icelandic Parliament, 4 March 2024, 72 Palestinian Arabs were allowed to cross the border to Egypt on their way to Iceland. This was the result of talks which Foreign Minister Bjarni Benediktsson had held with his Israeli counterpart Israel Katz. The Israelis had approved those 72 individuals, probably after a thorough examination of their background (48 of them were children). But what was really interesting was that the Israelis had refused to approve 13 others on the list provided by the Icelandic authorites of people granted residence permits. Probably the Israelis know more about those 13 individuals than the Icelandic authorities do. It should be pointed out that now, with their impending defeat, those Hamas terrorists who do not want to leave for the paradise Muhammad promised them, must be busy planning their exit from Gaza, trying to blend into the stream of refugees. However, the Solaris people have said that they will try to bring those 13 individuals to Iceland, of course with the money illegally collected in Iceland, and most likely in breach of laws against bribes, money laundering and financing terrorism. The police do not seem to be doing anything to stop them.

Foreign Minister Bjarni Benediktsson (who is polite to a fault) discovered yet again that no good deed goes unpunished when he delivered the opening address at a meeting of the Institute of International Affairs on 7 March. The meeting itself went without incidents but when Bjarni was leaving, three Palestinian Arab women who had been waiting for him at the entrance began to shout at him, waving Palestinian flags and trying to approach him. Now, however, the Foreign Minister had some security and the women were swiftly removed. It is not clear whether those three women will be expelled from Iceland, as would seem reasonable. The naivety and passiveness of the Icelandic authorities, in particular the police and the immigration authority, is astonishing. As Elon Musk says: Wow, even Iceland.