Demonstration in Support of Palestine in Front of Iceland’s Parliament

Pro-Palestine demonstration, January 27th

As promised, despite the shutting down of the solidarity tent, where Palestinians and their allies had been camped in front of Parliament from December 27th until their permit expired on January 24th, demonstrations calling upon the Icelandic government to take action regarding Palestine have continued.

Demonstrators assembled at Hallgrímskirkja church in downtown Reykjavík at around 2:00 PM yesterday and then marched west, chanting, drumming and carrying banners, before reaching Austurvöllur, the square in front of Parliament. Among the attendees were esteemed author Illugi Jökulsson, who gave a speech, as well as rapper Alexander Járl performing a musical number.

Bashar Murad performs

The highlight of the event was Palestinian singer Bashar Murad, who is set to compete in Iceland’s Söngvakeppnin song contest. Bashar first came to the attention of most Icelanders after the Icelandic band Hatari represented Iceland at Eurovision in 2019, which that year was held in Tel Aviv. The band visited Palestine and became acquainted with Bashar Murad, who was already an established artist, and collaborated with him.

At the demonstration, Bashar gave an a cappella performance of “Mawṭinī”, which means “My Homeland”, the lyrics to which were written by the Palestinian poet Ibrahim Tuqan with music by Lebanese musician Mohammed Flayfel composed for it in 1934. The song has a long and storied history, and is considered by many to be the unofficial second national anthem of Palestine.

The demands remain the same

The demands of the protesters, reiterated at the demonstration’s conclusion, have not changed. Palestinians in Iceland have implored the Icelandic government to follow through on their policy of family reunification, wherein those seeking international protection in Iceland may also be reunited with their families. This policy has been applied, for example, to Ukrainians in Iceland, but the family members of many of the Palestinians in Iceland are still in Gaza, and they want the government’s help in retrieving them. The government has thus far contended that it is not obliged to fulfill this request.

In addition, they have asked that the government cease deportations of Palestinian asylum seekers, and they have called for a meeting with government ministers.

Demonstrations are likely to continue, as per a statement organisers of the solidarity tent made shortly after it was taken down: “Our shared responsibility does not end at this tent; it extends to the ongoing pursuit of justice, peace, human dignity and the protection of vulnerable lives in Palestine. We feel that we have no choice but to continue.”

Women’s Strike Drew Close to a Quarter of Iceland’s Population

Arnarhóll hill women's strike 2023

Yesterday, a protest inspired by the 1975 Icelandic women’s strike took place in downtown Reykjavík. An officer with the Capital Area Police told Vísir that there had “never been such a crowd” gathered on Arnarhóll Hill and nearby streets.

The cause is just; the weather, fantastic

Yesterday, numerous women and non-binary persons in Iceland took the day off in order to participate in a demonstration inspired by the 1975 Icelandic women’s strike. The aim of the protest was twofold: eradicating gender-based violence and rectifying the undervaluation of so-called women’s professions.

Ásgeir Þór Ásgeirsson, Chief Superintendent of the Capital Region Police – who has overseen many gatherings in downtown Reykjavik over the past decades – told Vísir yesterday that he had never seen such a crowd in central Reykjavík: “There has never been such a crowd around Arnarhóll Hill and in the nearby streets – not even on Culture Night,” Ásgeir Þór stated.

As noted by Vísir, it is difficult to estimate the exact size of yesterday’s crowd. The police, monitoring the proceedings at its control centre with the aid of cameras, speculated that the number of demonstrators might have reached a six-figure number.

“Probably around 70,000-100,000 people,” Ásgeir Þór told Vísir. “We expected a large turnout, but this exceeded all expectations. After all, the cause is just, and the weather was, of course, fantastic.”

#MeToo “Revolution” Within Icelandic Secondary Schools

#MeToo

This week, students at MH junior college protested a history of perceived inaction on behalf of school administrators in matters of sexual abuse and misconduct. During a staged walk-out, students called on administrators and government officials to take action. In addition to offering formal apologies, school administrators, alongside one government minister, took steps to rectify the state of affairs in the future.

Lipstick smeared on bathroom mirrors

Tuesday, October 3, was a day of protest at the Hamrahlíð Junior College (Menntaskólinn við Hamrahlíð) in Reykjavík.

Rhetorical questions were smeared on bathroom mirrors with lipstick:

“Why are there so many rapists?”

School administrators were addressed via typed-out messages hung in the hallways:

“As a student at MH, I refuse to accept that full-on rapists are sitting across from me in class, are participating in group projects – are passing me by in the halls.”

The source of these protests?

The perception that history was repeating itself at MH: that once again school administrators were handling accusations of sexual abuse passively – and that victims were being made to confront perpetrators in the halls.

“For fuck’s sake, do something. I refuse to attend the same school as a person charged with raping his little cousin.”

The same war, ten years on …

In an op-ed published on Vísir.is on the following morning, MH alumna Brynhildur Karlsdóttir delineated her experience at MH junior college ten years ago:

“When I was a 17-year-old student at MH, I was raped by my friend and schoolmate. When I finally mustered the courage to open up to school administrators – I was met with closed doors. Despite anxiety attacks, fear, and post-traumatic stress, I never reported the incident to the police, and the only solace that the administration could offer was the prospect of switching schools.”

Brynhildur’s best friend waged a similar war:

“Having been brutally raped, my friend Elísabet pressed charges and offered substantial evidence. Nonetheless, she was made to confront her rapist in the hallways and attend the same classes. There was no justice for Elísabet, no one looked out for her, and she alone was made to shoulder responsibility for the violence she suffered. She committed suicide in 2019.”

Later in her piece, Brynhildur weaves her narrative into contemporary events at MH, describing how a student, as mentioned above, had decided to take matters into her own hands, writing lipstick messages onto bathroom mirrors. “I know this because my sister and my sister-in-law attend MH, and they tell me of a kind of student revolution that’s taking place.”

Speaking to a journalist from Vísir, Brynhildur described the administration’s reaction to the protests vicariously, through her sister and sister-in-law: “They said that the administration had been rather upset, and referred to the protests a kind of ‘group hysteria.’ They don’t seem to be showing any consideration for the experiences of students, who are opening up about the injustice that they’ve suffered. It’s just silenced, and, once again, the shame lives on with the victims.”

The President of MH, Steinn Jóhannsson, reached out to Brynhildur on the following morning, offering an apology on the school’s behalf (despite not having been President during Brynhildur’s time at the college):

“He offered a former apology on behalf of MH … it was unexpected,” Brynhildur remarked. “One is somehow not used to someone accepting responsibility and saying, ‘Yes, that’s awful, we’re so sorry to hear it, and we failed you.’ That was big.”

MH administrators also offered a formal apology to students, observing that they regretted the fact that current and former students had experienced distress relating to matters of sexual abuse and misconduct within the school premises.

“These are sensitive issues; we want to learn and do better,” a press release from the school read.

1,000 students participate in protests

At 11 AM yesterday morning, dozens of MH students staged a walk-out, congregating outside the walls of the school in a meeting of solidarity and to voice their demands. Other students from other secondary schools also attended.

Agla Elín Davíðsdóttir, a student at MH, read a list of demands geared toward changing school contingency plans regarding matters of sexual abuse.

“We demand that administrators treat sexual offences with the same, if not greater, gravity as other violent offences,” Agla stated.

As noted by RÚV, the protestors made four demands:

  • Perpetrators of sexual violence be expelled from school (i.e. that victims be spared confrontation with perpetrators on school premises)
  • Gender studies be made mandatory in all schools
  • Administrators, teachers, and staff receive gender and sexology training
  • Students be able to report sexual offences in an easy manner

The minister responds

Among those who attended the protests was Ásmundur Einar Daðason, Minister of Education and Children.

When asked why he had decided to attend the protests, Ásmundur remarked that the students were calling for the government and school administrators to listen. “And that’s why I’m here … I think that for too long we’ve failed to engage with these voices … these young people, they’re heralding a new era, and if we fail to listen – we’re in trouble.”

Addressing the crowd, Ásmundur offered an apology on behalf of the Icelandic government: “We apologise for not having listened to you over the past years,” he stated.

Aside from the apologies, the upshot of the protests was also more concrete: school administrators from MH held a meeting with the Association of Icelandic Secondary School Students (SÍF) and decided that the school would partner with the association in its efforts against sexual violence and harassment. Minister Ásmundur Einar has also stated that he would call a meeting with the headmasters of Icelandic secondary schools to review contingency plans.

Proposed Child Deportations Protested

A large crowd gathered yesterday to protest the deportation of children from Iceland. Authorities are currently handling two different deportation cases of Afghan families, including children. In one case, the single father Asadullah Sarwary is set to be deported with his ten and nine-year-old sons, Mahdi and Ali. The other case of deportation is the single mother Shahnaz Safari along with her 12-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter, Amir and Zainab.

The families have already received international protection status in Greece, and Icelandic authorities intend to deport the families based on that status. In both cases, Icelandic authorities intend to deport the families back to Greece, where conditions for children who have received international protection are deemed unfit for living by the Red Cross.

The demonstrators marched together from Hallgrímskirkja church towards Austurvöllur square, in front of Alþingi, the Icelandic Parliament. It is believed that a crowd of over 1000 showed up in solidarity for the families. So far this year, Icelandic authorities have denied 75 refugee children seeking international protection. On average, twelve children are denied international protection per month.

The planned deportations have been met with strong protests in Iceland, and there is mounting pressure on authorities and government to stop the deportations, and to abide laws. Many have called for the Minister of Justice Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfdóttir to act right away. Unicef has released a statement reminding authorities that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is in full effect and that the deportations are in violation of the convention. Along with this, Red Cross officials have called on the government to rescind the decision to deport the families, as well as Office of the Ombudsman for Children asking to discuss the matter with authorities.

Previously, Zainab’s classmates at Hagaskóli had demonstrated in support of her and in protest of the deportation.

In both cases, the deportations have been postponed due to the children suffering psychological breakdowns over the impending deportations. One of Asadullah’s sons experienced a psychological breakdown while Zainab’s daughter is believed to be on the verge of despondency should she suffer another setback. “Today was the most perfect day ever,” Zainab said in an interview with RÚV yesterday. Link here: https://www.ruv.is/frett/i-dag-var-besti-dagur-i-heimi

Climate Activists Call for Immediate, “Effective Action”

Environmental Activists held the third annual Climate Walk and demonstration in Reykjavík on Saturday. Per the press release, organizers hoped to draw attention to climate change issues and also compel the government to take meaningful steps to address them.

“We have one simple demand,” read the press release. “[T]hat effective action be taken immediately to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” Organizers assert that the government must lead the way in these efforts, for without strong state leadership, “…it’s difficult for municipalities, businesses, community organizations, and individuals to do their part.”

The first Climate Walk in 2014 was held as part of the global Peoples’ Climate March, during which 2,700 similar demonstrations took place on the same weekend in 160 countries. Three hundred people attended that year in Iceland. Another event was organized the next year, in 2015.

Although an exact headcount wasn’t taken at this year’s Climate Walk in Reykjavík, co-organizer Hildur Knútsdóttir estimated that around 200 people participated. The event was also once again part of a global demonstration on climate issues. According to The Independent, hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered at 850 events in 90 countries—on all seven continents. “In Sydney, Australia, they sailed a ship along the harbour flying banners with their message. In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, youth groups organised flash mobs to raise awareness.” In the mining town of Durham in the UK, the article continues, “…activists locked themselves onto mining machinery in a bid to close a pit for the day…Support has even come from Antarctica, where the astrobiologist Cyprien Verseux has pictured himself holding up a banner featuring the day’s official moniker, Rise for Climate.”

As it happens, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir announced on Sunday that the new state budget that will be introduced early this coming week will, in fact, prioritize funding for climate issues among its other primary concerns, such as tax reform and improvements to the healthcare system RÚV reports. “We’re going to see a lot of progressiveness on climate issues,” she stated. “The government is going to present measures on climate issues and, of course, we’re going to have to look at a completely transformed system. We want to see systemic changes [when it comes to] climate issues.”