Sit-In in Support of Palestine at Iceland’s Foreign Ministry

Sit-in for Palestine May 30, 2024 at Iceland's Foreign Ministry. Photo: Kata Jóhanness

A group of protesters has begun a sit-in at Iceland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs due to Icelandic authorities’ lack of action on Palestine, RÚV reports. The group is not from a single organisation, rather is a diverse group of civilians who say they are fed up with Iceland’s lack of action and aim to disrupt business as usual until the government reacts. Their demands include that trade sanctions be imposed on Israel and that the Icelandic government sever diplomatic relations with the country.

“It’s been 234 days of an escalating genocide of Palestinian people and Icelandic authorities have done nothing to prevent it,” Salvör Gullbrá Þórarinsdóttir, one of the protesters, told reporters. “The government has said that they want a ceasefire in Gaza and kept saying that they aim for peace and a two-state solution but those are all empty words and they are not followed by any actions.”

Protesters request meeting with minister

Salvör Gullbrá says that the recent attack of the Israeli army on Rafah where civilians were killed was the last straw. “A horrifying attack where people were burned alive.” Salvör says that the protest will continue until the government takes action. The group has asked for a meeting with Foreign Minister Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir and has not been granted meetings with any ministry staff at this point.

“It’s is very clear that the Icelandic public wants a ceasefire in Palestine and supports Palestinian people,” Salvör stated. “This is apparent in various surveys that have been conducted about the public’s dissatisfaction when Iceland abstained on a ceasefire vote last October.” Salvör also pointed to the controversy surrounding Iceland’s participation in the 2024 Eurovision Song Contest on the same grounds.

Demand sanctions and coordinated action

The protester’s demands are as follows:

  1. That trade sanctions be imposed on the State of Israel.
  2. That Iceland sever diplomatic relations with the State of Israel.
  3. That Iceland support South Africa’s lawsuit against Israel before the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
  4. That Minister for Foreign Affairs Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir initiate a discussion on coordinated actions with the Nordic countries, Ireland, and Spain.

Norway, Ireland, and Spain officially recognised the State of Palestine recently, an action Iceland was the first among Nordic countries to do so, in 2011. The Iceland-Palestine Association is echoing those first two demands in a protest to be held in outside the regular cabinet meeting tomorrow morning.

Continue Efforts to Save Icelandic Visa-Holders from Gaza

Rafah_Border_Crossing

Three Icelandic women who have been in Egypt for around a week are continuing their efforts to assist Icelandic visa holders in Gaza across the Rafah border, and eventually home to Iceland. The women helped one Palestinian woman and her three sons across the border three days ago and are now trying to help another woman in Gaza and her three-year-old daughter reach safety. They call on the Icelandic authorities to rescue the roughly 120 people in Gaza who have already been granted Icelandic visas on the basis of family reunification.

“The feeling of seeing the family was indescribable, I don’t know how to put it into words,” Bergþóra Snæbjörnsdóttir, one of the three Icelanders currently in Cairo, told Iceland Review. “Also the feeling of getting the news that they were coming across the border, it was like finally breathing out after not realising you had been holding your breath for a long time.”

Icelandic authorities have not offered assistance

Bergþóra, a writer, is in Cairo along with fellow writer Kristín Eiríksdóttir and media professional María Lilja Þrastardóttir. All three are volunteering their time and say they will continue their efforts until the Icelandic government takes over. Both Iceland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Bjarni Benediktsson and Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir had previously stated that getting Icelandic visa holders out of Gaza was “complicated,” despite other Nordic countries having done so.

“Icelandic authorities have not had any contact with us, they have not offered us any assistance,” Bergþóra stated. “We have been in contact with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour about getting the first family home [to Iceland] and they have been very helpful.” Bergþóra explains that all of the families have been approved to receive UN funding for their cost of travel to Iceland. “The Icelandic state doesn’t have to pay for people returning home from Egypt.”

Impending attack at Rafah border

The situation at the Rafah border is dangerous, with an impending attack announced by Israeli authorities. “Israeli ministers and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have stated that the next target is the Rafah border, where there are currently around 1.8 million people in a very small area, so it’s incredibly dangerous. We want the Icelandic authorities to come get these people right away because Gaza is the most dangerous place in the world right now.”

Fundraising efforts underway

Minister for Foreign Affairs Bjarni Benediktsson has argued that more asylum seekers would be a strain on Iceland’s infrastructure. Bergþóra criticises this argument: “We want the Icelandic authorities to take responsibility and not talk about the country’s infrastructure in the context of a few souls from Gaza, the infrastructure that they have been underfunding themselves, systematically, for decades. Now, suddenly, when we’re talking about saving the lives of a few children from Palestine who are in the middle of a genocide, now suddenly they’re worried about our infrastructure.”

Around 120 people in Gaza hold Icelandic visas on the basis of family reunification. Around 75 of them are children, the rest are mostly women, and a handful are fathers with children in Iceland. Bergþóra stated that those who want to support the group’s rescue efforts can contribute to funding efforts organised by Solaris “and by continuing to speak, scream, fight, and call for the children to be rescued.”