Convoy prisoners heading home

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Three Norwegians were among hundreds of aid workers and activists who were released from Israeli jails on Wednesday, after being arrested during the Israelis’ attack on their convoy heading for Gaza. Angry reaction to the convoy attack continued, also in the Norwegian Parliament.

Member of Parliament Bård Vegar Solhjell, a former Education Minister in Norway, spoke at Monday's demonstration in Oslo against the Israeli convoy attack and now is calling for the "strongest possible" economic and diplomatic measures against Israel. PHOTO: NRK

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that diplomats in Norway’s Foreign Ministry could confirm the release of Randi Kjøs of the aid group Fellesorganisjon in Hedmark, Espen Goffeng of the Palestinakomiteen in Norway and Nidal Hejazi of Free Gaza Norge.

Israel has claimed its soldiers fired in self-defense after boarding the convoy. Here, Israel's ambassador to Norway tells Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that responsibility for the attack lies with Hamas and those who arranged the convoy. PHOTO: NRK

Norwegian diplomats had initially been prevented from having contact with the three Norwegian citizens who were on board the convoy when Israeli soldiers attacked it in international waters early Monday, to prevent it from reaching Gaza.

All the vessels in the convoy were boarded, several persons were killed and injured on one of the them, all communication was cut off and the vessels were forced to sail to the Israeli port of Ashdod. From there, those on board were sent to prisons, with the Norwegians landing at Beersheba Prison. 

Norway’s ambassador to Israel, Vebjørn Dysvik, was finally allowed to visit the prisoners late Tuesday and confirmed they were physically uninjured, but he declined to relate their versions of what happened during the attack. “They must tell their own stories when they’re released,” he said. 

Norwegian officials have condemned the convoy attack and protested the Israelis’ handling of the Norwegian citizens, as have many other countries who had citizens on board the convoy. Reaction otherwise in Norway has been swift and angry.

Calls were rising for a boycott of Israeli goods, and international bans on sending weapons to Israel. Newspaper Dagsavisen reported that Bård Vegar Solhjell, a member of Parliament and former Education Minister in Norway, called for “the strongest possible economic and diplomatic measures against Israel.”

Eva Kristin Hansen, a Labour Party MP who sits on the Parliament’s Foreign Relations committee, said she agreed with Solhjell and that it was easy to feel “powerless … especially when Israel ignores all calls from the UN.” 

Labour MP Hadia Tajik was among several Norwegian politicians who wore a Palestinian scarf in the Parliament on Tuesday, as a symbol of frustration and anger over Israel’s convoy attack and solidarity with the civilian population of Gaza, which was severely bombed by Israel last year. Its rebuilding has been hampered by Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

Tajik, however, opposes a boycott. “I think they do more damage than good,” she said. “It’s important to retain open channels to all involved parties, also to the Israeli government. Otherwise we won’t get our message through.”

State Secretary Gry Larsen of the Labour Party said the Norwegian government supports the UN Security Council’s call for an independent investigation of the attack but doesn’t support a boycott of Israel.

Jan Egeland, a former diplomat long involved in Middle East peace talks who now heads foreign policy research institute NUPI, suggested that Israel’s three-year-old blockade of Gaza may finally be backfiring on it. More vessels are on their way to Gaza, carrying relief supplies.

“If aother 100 or 1,000 boats sail for Gaza, what will Israel do then? A wave of boats from the solidarity movement might move a solution forward, because it will be diffficult to uphold the blockade,” Egeland told Dagsavisen. “I think the Israelis have understood that using marine commandos was the worst possible method to stop the demonstrators. Maybe international diplomacy can now offer an alternative.”

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