Top Norwegian politicians on both the right and left sharpened their tone towards Israel on Saturday, deploring its ongoing attacks on Gaza and its civilian population. As demonstrations against the attacks took place around Norway, Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide said Israel is “going too far,” while the Conservatives’ leader of the foreign affairs and defense committee in Parliament, Ine Eriksen Søreide, thinks Israel is now breaking the rules of war.
Both Norway’s Labour-led government and the opposition in Parliament strongly supported Israel’s right to defend itself after being initially and brutally attacked by the Palestinian organization Hamas on October 7. Both Eide of the Labour Party and Søreide of the Conservatives, a former defense- and foreign minister herself, stress, however, that also the right to self-defense falls under the international rule of law.
“These rules are being broken now,” Søreide said, “and (Israel’s) massive blockade of Gaza, which is hindering humanitarian aid, is a violation of the rule of law.” Eide fully agrees, stressing that there’s “a clear line between the military and civilians in a war.”
Søreide’s Conservatives, Eide’s Labour Party and Norway itself have already called for an immediate halt to the attacks by both sides, and supported a UN resolution for a so-called “humanitarian pause” during the night. “We’re glad we voted for the resolution along with most of the UN’s member countries and many of our neighbours,” Eide said, but later sharpened his tone considerably.
“The situation (in Gaza) is catastrophic,” Eide told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Saturday afternoon, “and that applies for everyone, unfortunately also the Norwegian citizens who are there.”
He acknowledged that Israel is carrying out “an operation to attack Hamas’ military facilities, but when that happens in the form of massive bombing of whole quarters in Gaza, that’s far from the basic principles over how war shall be conducted, and we believe they (Israel) are going too far.”
He stressed how Norway condemned Hamas’ “gruesome and beastly terrorist attack” on Israel, which killed around 1,400 Israelis, “in the strongest of terms.” He now fears Israel is losing much of the sympathy it had, however, as its own attacks on Gaza mobilize the world against Israel.
“This is in Israel’s disfavour,” Eide told NRK. “This is no advantage for them, because in the long term them must live in peace with the Palestinians and their Arab neighbours. We say that as a friend of Israel, because this (Israeli leaders’ strategy at present) is extremely dangerous.”
Eide was in Brussels this past week, to drum up support for efforts to revive the peace process in the Middle East. Eide met with the European Union’s commissioner in charge of humanitarian aid and crisis management, Janez Lenarcic, on Friday just before Norway also joined calls for an immediate halt to to hostilities in the Middle East.
“I’m deepy worried that the conflict will spread to the West Bank and then possibly to Lebanon and farther in the region,” Eide told news bureau NTB. “This is extremely serious, and there’s all reason for us, the EU, Arab countries, the US and everyone else interested in building solid international support for a lasting solution. We need to discuss what’s needed to revive and restart a real peace process.”
He still believes that the only solution is one involving two states, one for Israel and one for the Palestinians. Norway is still not a member of the EU, but was glad EU leaders at least backed a proposal from Spain for an international peace conference for the Middle East.
Thousands of Norwegians, meanwhile, demonstrated all over the country for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. “It’s absolutely incredible that Israel carries on with this (attacks on Gaza),” said the leader of the Palestina Committee in Norway’s northern city of Tromsø, Inga Bårdsen Tøllefsen. She thinks Norwegian politicians should now consider sanctions against Israel, in an effort to halt all the attacks that have left civilians and foreigners in Gaza without food, water, medicine and electricity, and forced to try to survive in the bombed-out ruins of former homes. On Saturday most everyone in Gaza had lost telephone and Internet connections as well after heavy missile attacks during the night. Only a few trucks waiting to deliver humanitarian aid have been allowed into southern Gaza.
Demonstrations were also held in Oslo, Bodø, Bergen and Drammen, all organized by the Norwegian Church, Norwegian People’s Aid, Norwegian Church Aid, local chapters of Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders and Save the Children and Norway’s largest trade union federation, LO. Thousands turned up outside the Norwegian Parliament in downtown Oslo and at other locations around the capital, with many also alarmed that humanitarian organizations like Norwegian People’s Aid has now lost contact with its workers in Gaza.
Israel’s ambassador to Norway, Avraham Nir-Feldklein, told NRK that Israel “doesn’t want to any civilians injured” but finds it necessary “to remove Hamas at the root.” He claimed that’s the only battle Israel has: “We have no fight with Palestinians. We have a fight with this terror organization that furthers Iranian interests.”
The ambassador repeated claims that Palestinian civilians in Gaza “are not our target,” but believes Hamas uses hospitals as a human shield. “Why haven’t the demonstrators asked for the immediate release of (Israeli) hostages?”
The Israelis declared on Saturday that Gaza is now a battlefield after it carried out another massive airborne attack on the Gaza Strip during the night. That’s what cut phone and Internet connections. A high-ranking Hamas leader was reported among those killed, while Hamas claimed it was ready for a long-threatened ground invasion of Gaza.