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Norway, Oslo and the Palestinians: A rotten history

Nearly 30 years after the Oslo Accords, Norway remains an active contributor to the oppression of Palestinians, having abetted Jewish colonisation of their country since 1947
A demonstrator waves a Palestinian flag in front of the Royal Palace after a march in support of Palestine following a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, in Oslo, Norway, on 11 May 2021 (Reuters)

Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt brooks no violence against Palestinian civilians.

During the most recent Israeli massacre, she tweeted on 5 July "Norway's solidarity with the people in Jenin" and "condemned the high level of violence and all attacks against civilians".

In case the "neutrality" of the phrase "all attacks" is not properly grasped by the Israelis, Huitfeldt repeats the liberal western formula that equates the colonised Palestinians with their predatory Israeli colonisers by adding: "The cycle of violence must end." Nonetheless, an official from Norway toured the Jenin refugee camp along with dozens of foreign diplomats to inspect the ruins.

Intolerant of the slightest criticism of Israel's ongoing killings of Palestinian civilians, the Israeli foreign ministry shot back immediately, accusing Huitfeldt of encouraging and ignoring "terrorism".

"Such statements fail to foster a conducive environment for de-escalation and instead promote radicalisation and incitement on the Palestinian side," the spokesperson asserted, adding that Huitfeldt’s words could undermine meaningful dialogue between Israel and Norway".

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Before and since its sudden emergence as the country that sponsored a "peace" agreement between the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Israel in 1993, Norway has portrayed itself as a neutral do-gooder whose only aim is to reconcile warring parties and end the oppressive conditions under which the Palestinian people live.

This portrayal, however, contradicts Norway's historical role of actively helping the Zionist colonisation of Palestine and perpetuating the oppressive colonial conditions under which Palestinians live. Norwegian historian, Hilde Henriksen Waage, has published the most authoritative accounts of that chequered history.

Not only did Norway vote for the partition of Palestine in 1947, but it would become one of Israel's closest friends after 1948

Not only did Norway vote for the partition of Palestine in 1947 between the minority Jewish colonists and the indigenous Palestinian majority, but it would become one of Israel's closest friends after 1948. Indeed, Norwegians would aid Zionist colonisation before and after 1948. The first secretary general of the United Nations, the Norwegian Trygve Lie, was a "passionate" supporter of the Zionists to the point of acting as an informant, if not a spy, for them.

In his capacity as UN secretary general, Lie met secretly with representatives of the Jewish Agency almost daily at his home after April 1947. He later fully supported the Partition Plan and was a "fervent advocate" of Israeli membership of the UN, regarding Israel as his "own baby".

Norway itself, unlike Denmark and Sweden, supported Israel's application to the UN in May 1949, and officially recognised it, having already granted the Jewish settler-colony de facto recognition a few months earlier.

Lie even went as far as passing "top secret British intelligence to the Jewish Agency" through the Norwegian UN official in Jerusalem, whom he had previously appointed. He also passed secret military and diplomatic information to Israel’s representative at the UN, Abba Eban.

A picture released on 4 October 1947 shows members of the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) during their meeting in New York with UN Secretary-General Trygve Lie (L) (AFP)

That Zionist terrorists assassinated Lie's own UN mediator, Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte, did not dull his support for Zionist colonialism one iota. Lie was so partial towards Israel that he advised the Israelis on how to deal with Bernadotte during the truce negotiations. As recorded by the Jewish Agency: "Mr Lie's advice is that having been moderate, we should on the main issue start with an attitude of greatest intransigence. He said if we fall short on that, the Count would know very well how to exploit it." 

Lie even passed to the Israelis official UN reports on confidential discussions between the Arab governments and the UN during the 1949 armistice talks in Rhodes. He also used the confidential information he received from Rhodes "to influence the outcome of the negotiations to Israel's advantage" and secretly shared confidential information about the negotiations with the American delegation at the UN.

'Kibbutz Norway'

After the Zionist conquest of Palestine, Norwegians spanning the political spectrum, from the religious and conservative right to the Labour left, enthusiastically welcomed Israel. In 1949, the Norwegian Labour Party launched a fundraising campaign to establish a "Kibbutz Norway", also known as "the Norwegian Village", in Israel. The Norwegian-funded colony built on Palestinian land later became known as Moshav Yanuv.

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As for the Palestinian refugees expelled by Israel during the war, the Norwegians had no sympathy. Israel was not to blame and, following the Zionist line, they insisted that the Palestinians should be integrated into Arab countries.

In contrast to their attitude towards the Palestinians, Norwegian organisations aided the Zionists in ferrying out Tunisian Jews to Israel during Tunisia's liberation struggle and independence from French settler-colonialism in the late 1940s and early 1950s. This effort continued despite the Tunisian nationalist movement and its successor, the independent government of Tunisia, assuring Tunisian Jews of their equal citizenship in independent Tunisia and of their being integral to the fabric of Tunisian society.

Even as Tunisia embraced its Jewish population, its future president, Habib Bourguiba, had called for the recognition of Israel as early as 1952, four years before Tunisia's independence. Yet unlike Tunisian Jews who were not homeless but were transported by Norway to Israel anyway, no flights or funds were offered to transport or care for the expelled Palestinian refugees anywhere.

Norway did send some surplus fish, some of which was rotten, to feed some of them. Indeed, while wood, a rare commodity in post-war Norway, was sent to Israel for the construction of Kibbutz Norway, Norway refused to allow construction material to be exported to Palestinian refugees. 

Aiding and abetting

Like the rest of Europe and the US, Norway had still kept its restrictive immigration laws after the Holocaust, refusing to take in the mass of Jewish survivors. In fact, Norwegian police under the Vidkun Quisling regime had helped the Gestapo round up hundreds of Norwegian Jews who later perished in Hitler's camps. Ordinary Norwegians, in those terrible years, were not keen on helping their Jewish compatriots escape the Gestapo's hunt.

'There is no evidence to suggest Norwegian attempts to persuade the Israelis to see the Palestinian point of view'

- Hilde Henriksen Waage

Norway opted for supporting the Zionist solution and making the indigenous Palestinians pay for its own crimes against Jews, as did most countries that closed their borders to Jewish refugees before and after the Second World War.

Whereas from 1942 to 1948, fewer than 300 Tunisian Jews left the country to become colonists in Palestine, between 1948 and 1957, right before and in the wake of Tunisia's independence, approximately 26,625 Jews had emigrated.

The emigration of Jews from Tunisia, however, was not spontaneous, but rather the result of the efforts of many Zionist organisations grouped into the Zionist Federation of Tunisia, including the Jewish Agency, American Jewish organisations, and European, especially Norwegian, humanitarian organisations like Europahjelpen (later the Norwegian Refugee Council), which assisted in transporting Tunisian Jews to Israel via Norway.

In Norway, Tunisian Jews were housed in training camps where they studied Hebrew and were indoctrinated in Zionism in preparation for their upcoming colonisation of Palestine. But in 1952-53, Tunisian Jews in Israel, ironically, submitted petitions to France to be returned to French-ruled Tunisia due to the European Ashkenazi racism they encountered in the Jewish settler colony.

The Norwegians, in defiance of the UN internationalisation of Jerusalem, even supported the division of Jerusalem after the war and went further than most countries in recognising Israel's illegal fait accompli in declaring West Jerusalem as its capital in late 1949.

Norway's UN delegates began to receive instructions from the Israelis to push for "peace" with the Arab countries based on direct negotiations. The Arab countries, however, refused and the Norwegian-Israeli effort to force normalisation on the Arab world failed this time.

Norway's Labour Party leader pushed further in 1956 by subcontracting the Socialist International to set up an international campaign in support of Israel. One of its slogans was "Let Israel Live".

Since 1959, the Norwegians even provided Israel with more than 20 tonnes of heavy water for its then-burgeoning nuclear programme, which would take off at the France-provided Israeli Dimona reactor.

An upgraded role

Norwegian support for Israel persisted during and after its 1967 conquests. In the wake of the 1967 war, however, the Palestinians began to register on Norway’s political radar so much so that in 1970, Norway’s then prime minister, Per Borten, referred to them as "Palestinians" instead of just "Arabs" - thus ignoring Israel's colonial lexicon.

This, however, did not lessen Norway's support of Israel during the 1973 war, even reincarnating the "Let Israel Live" campaign. When a majority in the UN General Assembly voted to grant the PLO observer status in 1974, Norway joined Israel and five white settler colonies in the Americas and Iceland in voting against the resolution.

Norway's involvement in the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon (Unifil) since the late 1970s led to contacts between its officials and the PLO in Beirut, even though Norway remained one of the few European countries that refused to recognise the Palestinian group. Still, by 1988, Norway mediated between the US and PLO leader Yasser Arafat, which led to Arafat's infamous surrender to the US diktat by "renouncing terrorism" and abrogating the PLO Charter to satisfy US and Israeli conditions.

Norway's role was upgraded by 1992 and 1993 when it arranged for meetings with PLO officials and unofficial Israeli academics (namely Yair Hirschfeld, an Austrian born in New Zealand who moved from Vienna to Israel in 1967, and Ron Pundak, son of Danish colonists, whose father was a Mossad spy who part-timed as a journalist). They were later joined by the Norwegian couple, the researcher and future diplomat Terje Rod-Larsen and his wife Mona Juul, Norway's future ambassador to Israel.

Norway's ground rules for the secret talks included a prohibition on "dwelling on past grievances". By the time Norway's then foreign minister Johan Jorgen Holst became involved as the letter carrier between the PLO and the Israelis, he would act more as a consultant and informant to the Israelis than a mediator, as UN Secretary General Lie had done before him.

Holst would write to Shimon Peres, Israel's then foreign minister, briefing him on his "friendly but firm" tone with Arafat. Holst, in fact, provided the Israelis with "crucial information on where the Palestinians would be willing to concede".

Ongoing oppression

In her comprehensive assessment of Norway's role, Waage demonstrates that, unlike Norway's effort to persuade the Palestinians to accept Israel's demands, "There is no evidence to suggest Norwegian attempts to persuade the Israelis to see the Palestinian point of view or to tell the PLO negotiators where there might be some 'give' in Israeli positions or what counter proposals might prove fruitful," as Norway had done with the Israelis, whom Holst and his colleagues were "counselling".

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In the last three decades since Norway sponsored the Oslo agreement that has caused and continues to cause more suffering and oppression of the Palestinian people, it has moved to sell weapons to Israel through roundabout ways. It further began to police Palestinian school books for their opposition to Zionism, but not Israeli school books that are dominated by colonial racism against the Palestinians.

Its recent act of moving to label, rather than ban, Israeli goods made in Israel's illegal colonies is hardly a pro-Palestinian act. And neither is the solidarity message that foreign minister Huitfeldt issued two weeks ago.

Norway has been a main and active contributor to the oppression of the Palestinians since 1947 and continues to cause them harm and abet the colonisation of their country. Its ground rules for the PLO in 1993 might have been to prohibit "dwelling on past grievances", but the Palestinian people must dwell on Norway's past and present crimes against them, which show no sign of abating.

Norway's attempts to portray itself as a humanitarian peace-loving mediator may satisfy a gullible Norwegian public, but they convince no one among the Palestinian people, save for the collaborator Palestinian Authority, which Norway funds in order to suppress anti-colonial Palestinian resistance and safeguard Israeli colonialism.

Just like the rotten fish Norway sent to the Palestinian refugees, its efforts to mediate a "peaceful solution" proved to be just as rotten, and the Palestinian people are better off without them.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Joseph Massad is professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University, New York. He is the author of many books and academic and journalistic articles. His books include Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan; Desiring Arabs; The Persistence of the Palestinian Question: Essays on Zionism and the Palestinians, and most recently Islam in Liberalism. His books and articles have been translated into a dozen languages.
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