Iceland’s solidarity with Palestinians unshaken since independence recognition

Iceland, which is a NATO member and active in the United Nations, is one of Palestine’s biggest supporters in Europe.
Sunday 25/11/2018
A man walks with flowers in Brussels among pairs of shoes during a demonstration in solidarity with Palestinians. (AP)
A plight that matters. A man walks with flowers in Brussels among pairs of shoes during a demonstration in solidarity with Palestinians. (AP)

LONDON - The International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People is observed each year on November 29. On that day in 1977, the UN General Assembly called for the adoption of resolution 32/40 to support Palestinian rights.

This year’s celebration also coincides with the 30th anniversary of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s declaration of independence, in which he declared the establishment of the state of Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital during the Palestinian National Council in Algeria.

On December 29, 2011, Iceland became the first western European country to recognise Palestine as an independent state in its 1967 borders as well as the right of return of refugees. The recognition came a month after Palestine became a full member of UNESCO.

However, Icelanders’ support for Palestine dates back even further. On November 29, 1987, the Icelandic-Palestinian Friendship Association was established, in part to raise awareness of and solidarity for the Palestinian cause.

During a short visit to the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik, I met Silja Palmadotti, the vice-president of the association. Palmadotti, who has helped raise awareness of the Palestinian cause since 2012, expressed her happiness and pride in supporting the Palestinian people, who she emphasised have long sought their self-determination, freedom and independence.

“We conduct periodic meetings with members and set plans to organise some educational and heritage events to attract more volunteers, including those interested in human rights issues,” said Palmadotti, who added that her own visit to the West Bank deeply impacted her, furthering her interest in the Palestinian cause and the Arabic language. “We sell Palestinian products during the Christmas season, including the Palestinian kufiyeh. We also show some films that shed light on the Palestinian issue and sometimes we invite speakers from inside and outside Palestine.”

Palmadotti said the association, which has some 1,000 members, also occasionally sends solidarity activists and human rights activists to the West Bank to better understand what is happening on the ground. The group has also managed to send 500 artificial limbs to Gaza over the last few years through an international medical foundation.

“We are saddened by what is going on in Gaza and we pray for peace,” said Palmadotti. “In the past, we organised a demonstration in the capital after the outbreak of the last Israeli war on Gaza in 2014, the Palestinian flags were raised and a number of officials from the government and various parties participated.

“Another sit-in was organised last May outside the parliament calling for the withdrawal from the next Eurovision contest that will be held in Israel in 2019 in protest against the human rights violations perpetuated by Israel towards the Palestinian nation. In addition, more than 16,000 Icelandic people signed an online petition to call for boycotting the contest,” she said.

Iceland, with a population of 350,000, hosts a small Arab community of about 500 people. There are also some 1,000 Muslims in Iceland, mostly from the Balkans. There is a single mosque in the capital — the Grand Mosque of Iceland — in addition to two smaller places of worship.

Iceland ‘s Palestinian community comprises about 60 people, according to Salman al-Tamimi, a Palestinian who was born in 1955 in the village of Wadi al-Joz in East Jerusalem. In 1971, he became the first Palestinian to settle in Iceland. Today, al-Tamimi, who holds a degree in computer science from the University of Iceland, lives in the country with 15 family members, including his Icelandic wife, children and grandchildren.

“When I came to Iceland I was on my way to the United States and decided to stay here, and at that time the support for Israel was big and Palestine was ignored, because there was not enough awareness of the Palestinian issue,” al-Tamimi said. “Over the past years we have made great efforts and I can say that the support for Palestine now is 99%. We held many meetings with representatives of the government and members of the various parties. Occasionally we organise solidarity events involving the small Arab community and conduct various educational activities.”

Al-Tamimi stressed that Iceland, which is a NATO member and active in the United Nations, is one of Palestine’s biggest supporters in Europe, supporting pro-Palestine resolutions in the UN.

“The Palestinian leadership should take advantage of the Icelandic diplomatic support and benefit from our presence, connections and provide us with the logistical support through organising cultural and heritage exhibitions such as Dabkah performance for example,” al-Tamimi said. “We asked our embassy in Oslo to help us translate some of the poems of the great poet Mahmoud Darwish into the Icelandic language and we are waiting for their response.”

I was astonished to learn from Palmadotti that there is a poem, “Accidental fire in Palestine,” that is taught in Icelandic secondary schools. It tells the story of a Palestinian girl who was accidentally killed by a British soldier that was planning to kill her father during the British mandate for Palestine between 1923 and 1948.

The killing continues in Palestine. But so does the solidarity of the Icelandic people.