Gaza protests increase in EU countries

As European Union delegations poured into the Middle East today to try and broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, protests in the European Union countries have escalated. MENASSAT's Alexandra Sandels covered the protest actions in Stockholm.
stockholm gaza protest
Youth from Sweden's Arab community take part in the Gaza demonstrations in Stockholm on Sunday. Gaza demonstrations were held in several EU countries. © Alexandra Sandels

STOCKHOLM, January 5, 2008 (MENASSAT) — Over 2,000 people gathered in freezing temperatures in the Swedish capital on Sunday afternoon for a demonstration against Israel's 9-day-old military offensive in Gaza.

As Israeli ground troops were several hours into their newly launched ground offensive into the Gaza Strip, protesters were on the Stockholm streets chanting slogans such as "EU act now, Sweden act now," and "USA hypocrites-Israel murderers."

Angry demonstrators marched to the Israeli embassy through the city center, urging the Swedish government to take greater action in Gaza and calling for an economic boycott of Israel. The volume of trade between Israel and Sweden has been at more than $500 million annually since 2000.

"Not a single Swedish Crown to Israeli vegetables and technology. Boycott Israel," a rally organizer from Sweden's Islamic Union shouted to the assembled demonstrators.

Another speaker from the same union told protesters to remove their jackets and hats "If they want to know what it feels like for the people of Gaza living in temperatures dropping below zero at night without electricity and heat."

On Sunday, the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt traveled to the Middle East as part of an EU foreign ministers mission to participate in talks they hope might broker a cease-fire.

Sweden's Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt called on Sunday night for an "immediate cease fire" in a statement.

The demonstrators were escorted by a caravan of police vehicles and were instructed to stop at some distance from the Israeli embassy.

The majority of the protesters were Arab-Swedes carrying Palestinian flags and wearing keffayehs. There was the odd Hezbollah flag, but a full-range of Arab national flags was on display. 

At the forefront of the march were three young boys carrying fake coffins as others behind them shouted, "Stop killing our children!"

The Al Jazeera factor

Speakers at the demonstration also criticized Sweden's media coverage of the Gaza crisis, saying it was biased and not providing an accurate picture of the situation.

Omar Mustafa, a speaker from Sweden's Islamic Union said before the assembled crowd that Al Jazeera's coverage was crucial to understand what was really taking place in Gaza.

"We who have the possibility of seeing the picture we are not able to see in the Swedish media, we know what is happening in the hospitals in Gaza," he said.

Mustafa said that he thought the Swedish media coverage of Gaza had been "shameless" and one-sided.

"Without Al Jazeera we would have no idea what was going on. They provide coverage around the clock and paint a fair picture of Gaza," he said.

Sweden is generally perceived as somewhat of a pro-Palestinian country in comparison with some of its EU neighbors. Since the start of Israel's attacks on Gaza, many of Sweden's media have devoted a significant chunk of their programming to the crisis.

On Sunday, one of Sweden's leading newspapers, Svenska Dagbladet, carried a first page report on the miseries of a family in Gaza while Dagens Nyheter headlines "Several civilians killed" about the Israeli bombing of a shopping center in Gaza.

Mustafa said that a number of activist actions in Stockholm are in the pipeline for next week. The Swedish Islamic Union has called for a new protest march to the Israeli embassy next Saturday.