Silver Lining

Food for thought

“Yes, we are funding the occupation,” Swedish minister glibly tells Gaza youth

(File photo)

by Rana Baker, EI

When your hosts arrive late to a meeting then leave you in the middle of the discussion, you might accept the reasons they provide and not get irritated. But when they fail to address the points you raise as though you never even raised them, one cannot but find this behavior very disrespectful, if not downright rude.

On Monday, together with other young Palestinians, I was invited to attend a meeting with Gunilla Carlsson, Sweden’s Minister of International Development Cooperation and vice chairman of the Moderate Party, a center-right political.

We met at a fancy restaurant-cafe overlooking the sea in Gaza City. Although Carlsson was there on time, we could not start before other Swedish officials and at least one journalist joined us about five to ten minutes later. It was difficult to distinguish journalists from officials because pictures were being taken all throughout the meeting.

We were all there to discuss what “they,” the European Union, can do for “us,” the youth of Gaza living under Israeli occupation. Although I am convinced of the uselessness and eurocentrism of this kind of discussion, I did not hesitate to accept the invitation because it is always amusing to hear the hypocrisy firsthand.

Evading Israel’s responsibility

Carlsson, clad in a traditional Palestinian embroidery dress, began by suggesting that Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank should be “brought together” noting, with a smirk, that people in the West Bank refer to themselves as “West Bankers,” just as people in Gaza often refer to themselves as “Gazans.” However, she made no mention of Israel’s policy of dividing Palestinians and forcing them into separate bantustans, with municipal powers at best. We told her that bringing Palestinians “together” in the physical sense is impossible due to the Israeli-controlled Erez checkpoint that perches between us.

Carlsson nodded – nodding was the mantra – then went on to blame Hamas for cracking down on cultural activities and youth gatherings, implying that had it not been for the Hamas government and its security apparatus, Gaza would have flourished culturally.

I explained to Carlsson that Israel is the primary actor in the deterioration of the social and cultural life in the Gaza Strip, and that Israel’s missiles neither spare students nor universities. I also gave the example of the recent Palestine Festival of Literature in Gaza, during which members of the Hamas youth, and even some of the group’s high-profile officials, attended a few of the events and participated just like anyone in the audience.

This notion was reiterated more than once by many of us who were in the discussion. Seeing that no one agreed with her complete evasion of Israel’s responsibility for dwindling cultural and social conditions, Carlsson asked: “So you think we should talk to Hamas?” But before anyone could answer she said: “But you know our contact policy in the EU. We are waiting for the Palestinian elections to be held.”

At this point everyone at the table, save the Swedish officials of course, burst out laughing. “Good luck waiting,” commented Yasmeen El-Khoudary, a blogger and co-founder of the Diwan Ghazza cultural forum. I could barely keep silent, and literally had to bite my lip to avoid cracking up.

“Yes, we are funding the occupation”

Carlsson was not impressed. The reaction was perhaps not what she expected. “So how do you think we [in the EU] can help?”

Here the conversation started to sting. Carlsson was obviously expecting us to ask her to supervise an initiative that calls for fighting misogyny under the “Islamist rule” of Hamas or against the “Islamization” of the Gaza Strip.

”You can do a lot,” I answered, “the EU has influence over Israel but it is simply not interested.” Here Carlsson turned her face, talked to the waiter, then an official, as if I was not speaking to her. “For example,” I continued raising my voice a little bit, “the EU decided that settlement products will be labeled as thus but this is taking longer than needed, the EU also upgraded its trade relations with Israel last year.”

Carlsson did not address any of my points. In between her chat with the waiter and official, she nodded and nodded, but being so focused on what the official was telling her, in a low voice of course, I do not think she heard much of what I was saying.

Sameeha Elwan, a blogger and human rights worker, also criticized EU’s policy and double standards. “Yes, we are funding the occupation, you can blame us” Carlsson finally confessed.

“I can ask you to fund a cultural project,” I added, “but this does not address the root cause of the problem which is the Israeli occupation…” Fidgeting and once again chatting with the same official just as I spoke, Carlsson suddenly interrupted me saying that they are late and “have to go” to another meeting.

But she and her crew apparently had a few more minutes to take pictures with us, though definitely not to address or at least listen to what we were saying.

Warmth toward occupiers, threats toward Palestinians

One day after the meeting, Gunilla Carlsson met Yair Lapid, Israel’s finance minister and a so-called “centrist” who is open in his anti-Palestinian views. Tweeting her picture with him, both grinning, she described the meeting as “good.” Of course, Carlsson was not there to discuss the taxes Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority then withholds at the whim of its prime minister.

Gunilla Carlsson, who shamelessly meets with Israeli politicians involved in war crimes and the bloody and brutal occupation of the Palestinian people, comes to Gaza through the Erez crossing — a right Palestinians are denied — with the approval of the same Hamas government which she refuses to recognize, then has the guts to criticize them and behave as though our liberation cannot but come through the European Union’s imperialist and pro-Israel policies.

But Carlsson’s hypocrisy does not end here. On 14 June, she threatened to cut financial aid to the Palestinian Authority should negotiations with Israel not resume. What is most disgusting about this is Carlsson’s failure to voice the same threats to Israel whose relentless land theft and colonization in the West Bank constitute the primary obstacles to the resumption of the “peace process.”

In fact, Carlsson not only failed to criticize Israel’s settlement expansion policy and disinterest in peace but bizarrely praised Yitzhak Molcho, Israel’s chief negotiator, as “committed,” “serious,” and “engaged for peace.”

Our meeting at least served one useful purpose. It was a reminder that liberation, the end of racism, famine, and poverty, do not come through double-faced, disrespectful, and Eurocentric politicians such as Gunilla Carlsson.

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